After yet another funeral for a young person who died from a heroin overdose, I heard a group of men talking about heroin addiction and its evil impact on their community. I listened as their anger-laced comments flowed from, “We have to do something to stop this crap,” to, “What can we do? They don’t listen anyway?” to finally, “It’s a damn losing battle.”
But, really, is fighting heroin/opiate addiction a losing battle? Of course not. Is it an easy fight? No. Is it a fight for the feint-hearted? Nope. But is it a fight that we can win? Absolutely. We can win this fight both within an individual and within a community.
The question really comes down to, “How?”
Well, I can’t say that I have all the answers nor do I have a sure-fire way to take arms against opiate addiction. But, I do know that there are a lot more people who don’t abuse opiates than there are that do. I was talking with an old friend of mine who’s been clean for two and half years after struggling with a heroin addiction for twenty. Now, he’s a Narcotics Anonymous (NA) sponsor. I asked him, “How did you break free from heroin?”
He said, “It’s not easy, before I did anything, I had to want a good life. I got tired of the damn hustle and got sick and tired of being sick and tired. I was in and out of jail for stupid crap I did to get my fix and I didn’t want to end up dead in a ditch somewhere. So, I detoxed, went to some NA meetings, and prayed that God would help me. He listened and now I tell others that it’s their choice: Do they want to stay in hell or do they want to have a good life. When I was hooked, I couldn’t hold down a job, but now, I have a job and money to do fun stuff with my kids. If heroin addicts want a better life, I know it’s possible.”
I was thrilled to hear him because I know he’s right. I’ve seen people with the worst possible addiction to heroin find the desire to live clean and sober and then move towards the life they envision for themselves. But although they alone have to fight through withdrawal and the cravings, they all had one thing in common besides the desire to live clean and sober: Support resources.
A support resource is not an enabler, but rather, someone who: 1) learns about the mechanics of heroin addiction; 2) loves the heroin addict; 3) learns about how his or her own behavior acts as a trigger towards the addiction; and (perhaps most importantly) 4) makes changes in how he or she relates with the heroin/opiate addict. See, not only does a heroin addict have to change, but the circumstances and systems around the heroin addict must also change, as well.
I think that’s the point at which the fight becomes difficult: When people learn that addiction to heroin or anything else is usually a systemic outcome. That is, there is a breakdown in a family or community system that maintains a situation in which someone remains addicted. It takes hard and fast reflection and honesty to break an addiction, not just from a heroin/opiate addict, but from those around the heroin/opiate addict as well.
Fighting heroin addiction is not a losing battle, but it’s a hard fight because, even if a person hasn’t ever even seen a needle holding heroin, if that person wants to beat heroin/opiate addiction, that person has to start by looking hard at the person in the mirror.