Recognizing and Responding to Addiction as a Health Concern

By District of Columbia Bar

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By Johnny Allem

Founder and President, Aquila Recovery

Despite the recent and costly uptick in opiate misuse (street and prescription), a significant trend in society brings new understanding and fresh practices to our centuries old experience with chemical dependence.

Millions of Americans are openly demonstrating that recovery is a successful and rewarding experience. Thousands will gather on October 4 on the National Mall to demonstrate the fact that recovery succeeds.

Addiction to substances is accepted as a health issue by the medical profession, the insurance industry, major employer groups, and much of the general public.

Science has demonstrated that addiction and its recovery have stages of change and brains are subject to damage as well as rebuilding.

Treatment has become more science based with recognition of parallel mental and physical health symptoms; medicines to assist in treatment and recovery; longer treatment and supports to building sustaining recovery; and better outcome measurements.

Persons with addiction disease are entering care earlier, dealing with concurrent life issues, and maintaining their careers, families and lives during the recovery process.

But this progress is neither evenly nor widely applied.

Too many people find themselves in jail when treatment would be more appropriate. We are accepting of the fact that only 10 to 12 percent of those in need of treatment receive it. And, interventions occur in the criminal justice arena rather than in the health system or at work.

Too many people with difficulties lose their jobs and insurance before treatment is accepted as an option. Recent studies indicate that nearly 70 percent of persons with addiction have good jobs and good insurance. Yet, taxpayers finance almost 80 percent of the nation’s treatment.

While science advances, other elements of society lag in applying what we know about addiction disease and its resulting personal and social damage. We have been quick to attack the wrong doings of people under the influence, and to chase the supply of illegal addictive drugs. Neither of these actions has succeeded.

While the rule of law certainly holds people accountable for their actions (as do science-based treatment regimens), too little attention is given the legal and moral responsibilities for underage binge drinking of legal alcohol, or the oversupply of commercial opiates through legal prescription supplies.

The bright spots in our future include:

More opportunity for outpatient treatment, supported by commercial insurance that allows people to build healthy recovery at the same time they maintain their jobs and family responsibilities.

Treatment supports that include long-term attention to life issues and include recovery coaching as well as psychiatric and counselor attention. Mutual aid groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Smart Recovery, and Narcotics Anonymous, are major gateways to healthy connections and recovery mentors.

Attention is growing for treatment of family systems in the origins of addiction illness and the whole health required throughout the family.

America is at its best when individuals look for the good in each other, and grow through connection in a society of mutual caring and attention. Our legal system is a grand tool to protect and support that trait. Learning the true perspective of addiction disease and its healing can make us all stronger. This learning is particularly helpful as the legal profession embraces the health view of chemical dependency.

About Johnny Allem: Mr. Allem “is a leading national advocate for addiction recovery issues. Recently retired as President/CEO of the Johnson Institute, he brings 20 years of activism and leadership with the addiction recovery community.”

The D.C. Bar Lawyer Assistance Program (LAP) has a free and confidential monthly mental health support group. It is a safe place for D.C. Bar members to exchange ideas about coping with anxiety, depression and other mental health issues.

If you would like to register or to obtain more information about the group and/or other services through LAP, please contact us 202-347-3131 or