Every once in a while something happens to remind me how far we have to go in pursuing the mission that Marty Mann established over 70 years ago when she started the National Council on Alcoholism. That organization, which is now the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD), started with the mission to educate the public that alcoholism is a disease, the alcoholic can be treated, and that addiction is a public health issue. One of the primary purposes of NCADD was to reduce the stigma associated with addictive illness.
I just read an article that the town of Middleton Ohio is considering a proposal to limit individuals overdosing from heroin to only two responses by the EMS services to provide Narcan and thus be revived him from an opiate overdose. The city Council states that this is a measure to deal with the financial cost of providing Narcan, which has increased drastically over the last several years due to the opiate epidemic.
Can you imagine what the response would be if a city stated it was going to limit the number of EMS responses for an individual with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease who needed to be brought to the emergency room for acute exacerbation, which can be as high as 3.5 per year per individual? I would imagine there would be universal outrage and such a regulation would be considered unthinkable.
And yet, we must ask the question, why is a regulation that would clearly result in the death of a human being considered acceptable? The answer of course, is the stigma that is still alive and well with regard to addictive illness. The belief continues that it is a moral and not a medical issue. That the individual has acted with complete volition and if she or he chose to, they could simply stop. This despite all of the research and evidence on the functions of the brain which clearly show that addictive illness is a result of brain chemistry and functioning.
So, the work of Marty Mann's mission is as vital today as it was 70 years ago. This is the work of the individuals who have volunteered as NCADD-NJ Advocacy Partners and Leaders. They have generously donated their time and energy to carry NCADD's message to the public and policymakers in order to reduce the stigma here in New Jersey.
We need to continue to work together to establish an environment where it would be unthinkable for any town in the state of New Jersey to remotely consider such an ordinance as that in Middleton Ohio. We have already had an impact on policy and New Jersey, but we need to remain active and vigilant so that attitudes and beliefs don't slide back to the old stigmatizing and blaming viewpoints.
We have put a face and voice on recovery in New Jersey and we at NCADD-NJ are incredibly grateful to those who have stepped forward and accomplished this. Hopefully together we can continue to move the tide of public opinion towards compassion, understanding, and help towards individuals and families affected by addictive illness.
Wayne E. Wirta