John and I live in Melbourne, Australia with our daughter and her family several months of the year. Since our son’s death by overdose from heroin 5 years ago, we have become interested in and involved with some of the Alcohol and Other Drug (AOD) programs there. We also receive news reports on current trends etc.
What is interesting to me is the contrast between the Australian approach to AOD use and the American approach. Australians accept that there will be drug and alcohol abuse in their society and therefore speak openly and candidly about it. A recent newsletter (Dec. 13, 2019) from VAADA (Victorian Alcohol and Drug Association) is a perfect example of their approach. It was an alert about “ increasing numbers of reports about very strong heroin in Melbourne, which has resulted in an increase in accidental overdoses.”
The alert asks providers in the AOD sector to alert their clients (heroin users) to this problem and to be careful and look out for their fellow users. They also urge providers to share specific harm reduction information to help reduce the risk of overdose, such as: get naloxone and keep it handy; try not to mix drugs (there is a lot of methamphetamine use mixed with heroin/opioid use); be smart about your tolerance, knowing it can change if you haven’t used for even a few days; and try not to use alone or in an unfamiliar place where you wouldn’t get help if you do overdose (which was the case for our son).
To many people in America, this sounds very much like aiding and abetting drug abuse. It would have sounded like that to me a decade ago. But after losing a son to an unintentional overdose due to very strong heroin that hit the streets in Tucson 5 years ago, I now sing a different song about drug and alcohol abuse. The bottom line is that a person can’t recover if they die from an overdose. Thinking that if those affected by opioid addiction would ‘just try harder’ is not working – and has never worked. And not speaking openly and ignoring a problem in our society and hoping it will just go away clearly makes no sense.
It was uncomfortable to bring sexual abuse in our society fully into the open after covering up a problem that was perpetrated (mainly by men – 90% of all sexual abuse is by men to females and males) for centuries. I have three close friends who were abused by male family members – their lives have been a constant struggle for gaining self-worth because of that abuse. The hope is now that by speaking openly and honestly about it, sexual abuse will be prevented among our young and vulnerable because they will know it is wrong regardless of what a family member, friend, or authority figure may say.
I believe that the same is true for addiction of any sort. If we as the families that make up our society can speak openly, wisely, and compassionately about substance use and how it will only lead to a life of misery and early death, our children may be willing to share the temptations they feel with their parents and so have support to resist the pressures they face. And they will face them – whether we think their peer group will be involved with early alcohol or drug use or not. This is the world they are growing up in. We pray they will not only survive, but live and thrive. Prevention is always the best answer.
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
“We can have a large impact on the prevention and amelioration of abuse, drug problems, violence, mental health problems, and dysfunction in families.”
― Steven C. Hayes, The Nurture Effect: How the Science of Human Behavior Can Improve Our Lives and Our World