While at lunch with a coworker, she excitedly updated me on the gossip about the Bachelorette—a popular American reality show. I’ll admit my thoughts started to drift as she prattled on as I’m not particularly interested in the turbulent love life of a reality star. Yet, my lack of interest didn’t stop the situation from existing–nor did it impact my coworker’s excitement about it—but it’s easy for people to turn away from issues that don’t directly impact them. However, simply ignoring a prominent issue does not prevent its impact from resonating within society. America’s stance on drug abuse is a primary example of a society attempting to avoid an issue that is directly in front of us.
It is often difficult to listen to the news without the opioid epidemic being discussed. Whether it’s about a parent overdosing in front of their child, steps taken by the community to improve outreach, or another young adult losing his or her life to a heroin overdose, it’s difficult to ignore the issue. According to Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, within the past decade heroin use has doubled among 18 to 25-year-olds (“Today’s Heroine,” 2015). While this data is alarming and calls for public action, one of the major forces behind the reform toward illegal drug use is due to the new demographic at risk. The amount of non-Hispanic whites using heroin has increased an outstanding 114%. The drug has also wreaked havoc on middle-income families, demolishing the stereotype that illegal drug use was only a problem among the low-income earners and the impoverished (“Today’s Heroin,” 2015). These demographic shifts have caused the public to rethink how they view addiction. Now, middle-class families advocate for change—a development lower class citizens didn’t have the power and/or resources to tackle before.
Many news agencies now cover both deaths and recoveries for middle class, white Americans who had reputations as “good kids.” Parents have shared stories about their children’s addictions and have tirelessly fought for reform. They demand harsher prison sentences for drug dealers, better access to treatment options, and lighter prison sentences to those who are struggling with addiction. These changes have caused the government to advance toward treating those addicted, rather than just locking them away in a jail cell for years.
A small amount of people, including Kathleen Errico (mother of Kelsey Grace Endicott), choose to be honest when writing their loved one’s obituary. Kathleen directly addressed her daughter’s overdose and how a two-year-old son was left without a mother, even after she was sober for nearly ten months. Kathleen Errico highlighting Kelsey’s life as a person who loved art and her family, not just her life as an addict, helps to break down the shame that many people feel when living with an addict (“Kelsey Grace,” 2016).
Although it is a tragedy to see young people struggle with and perish to their addiction, it is uplifting to see America changing its approach on addiction. After all, victims of addiction are people who have passions, talents, and loved ones who care about them. They are not merely criminals who have morally failed and it’s certainly time we stop treating them that way.
Kelsey grace endicott. (2016, April 6). Boston Globe. Retrieved from http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/bostonglobe/obituary.aspx?pid=179523724
Today’s heroin epidemic. (2015, July 7). Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/heroin/