Down the Ballot

Monday, February 3, 2014

Honor Hoffman by Changing Attitudes & Policies

Over the past few years it seems that the world, and possibly Americans have gotten more sensitive to addiction. It could just be the power of social media that people now have the ability to easily express themselves and see responses to events like Philip Seymour Hoffman's death  among their social circles. My friends that have voiced an opinion are saddened and dismayed by his death and the lost of the potential he held to make his life and others better.

I for one would like to not see that potential wasted in death. All of us can name someone famous who left our world too soon from an addiction of some kind. River Phoenix, Janis Joplin, Whitney Houston, Elvis Presley, Judy Garland, and many others over the years are just the ones the media highlights. Many of us, provided we have not lived very sheltered lives can probably name someone who isn't famous that is gone.

For some reason the media must think we the public enjoy hearing about those with so much, fail in such a manner. That's one thing about Americans, we love to judge people. Judging people is easier than loving them and helping them. Thousands of people are taken to jail for drug, sex, and alcohol related offenses every day. Many of them non-violent. Many of them struggling with some sort of addiction. There are plenty of things that are addictive that don't get you tossed in jail. Caffeine is perhaps the most common one that comes to mind. What if we started hauling people into jail for drinking too much coffee or soda? For whatever reasons caffeine is treated differently than heroin.

I don't think that's a good thing. Not that we should be tossing coffee drinkers in the pokey if they go over a certain number of pots of the black gold they crave. What we should be doing is creating more community resources to help people deal with addiction. It doesn't go away for most people. We all know people who can just drop a bad habit; some people don't have that ability. Some things might be easier to escape addiction from. What if we had a hospital or clinic bed for every jail or prison bed we have currently? The bottom line: instead of putting our citizens in jail for having an addiction, we ought to put them in a clinic where they can get help. Just removing them from the addiction isn't treatment.

What Philip Seymour Hoffman I hope proves is that if we can show this level of compassion for a celebrity that most of us did not know, perhaps we can show that same compassion for the next door neighbor who is making meth or that co-worker who starts to shake if they aren't holding a cup of coffee. I know. Not easy; but if we want 21st century solutions to these problems we've got to stop solving them like we did in the 19th century.

If you mess up we just toss you in jail. Mess up again? Go to jail for a longer time. Screw up again? Well, three strikes you're out sadly. What if instead of heading to the county or city jail you went to your local Betty Ford Clinic? Every time we enact more draconian measures to deal with addiction, we further degrade our fellow citizens and make it even harder for them to improve themselves. While America and Americans still have a long way to go on all mental health issues, I hope we take the opportunity presented by the passing of Mr. Hoffman and others as a chance to re-evaluate our own personal attitudes towards addiction and how we treat our addictions.

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