Drug addiction is a disease. Let’s treat it that way

The stigma surrounding drug addiction has to end.

People tend to put addicts in a different category than others who need medical help, and that attitude is contributing to the skyrocketing number of drug-related deaths in our community and our country.

Addiction is a disease, and it should be treated that way, says Michele Gerber, president of the newly formed Benton Franklin Recovery Coalition.

If it was, then more addicts would get the help they need instead of being shunned. They wouldn’t be left feeling helpless as they try to deal with their addiction alone, and families of drug users would be better able to find support as well.

Gerber and other members of the nonprofit are on a mission to get rid of the shame surrounding addiction, as well as connect community resources in such a way that addicts can get the help they need more easily and more quickly.

We think this is a much-needed action plan for the Tri-Cities, and we hope people who may have hardened opinions about drug use will keep an open mind and support the group’s efforts.

The coalition started last June with just eight people meeting on Gerber’s back porch. Now it has eighty members that include key leaders from law enforcement, the health care field and church ministries.

The retired Hanford site historian is turning her full attention to educating the community and getting the group’s core message out, which is that “addiction is a disease, not a disgrace.”

Gerber is committed to making people more aware of this under-the-radar killer.

She and others from the organization met recently with the Tri-City Herald Editorial Board to explain the new nonprofit’s mission, and their statistics on the problem are alarming — 72,000 Americans died directly from drug overdoses in 2017, and that even more people died of indirect addiction-related causes.

This number represents more deaths of Americans than from the Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq wars combined. In addition, it is estimated one American dies of drug addiction every 7.3 minutes.

And these numbers do not include alcohol and tobacco addiction. The misuse and addiction to opioids, prescription pain medicine and heroin is considered a national crisis by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Clearly, drug addiction is a devastating problem in our country.

Dr. Amy Person, the public health officer for the Mid-Columbia, is vice president of the new recovery coalition and said educating health care providers about substance abuse disorders is key to getting addicts help.

Many doctors and nurses don’t understand how to treat addicts for their drug use when they come in to the hospitals or medical clinics for other ailments, and that needs to change, coalition members said.

In addition, the group also would like to find more help for drug users once they are released from jail, as well as reopen a detox center in the Tri-Cities.

These are just a couple key ideas coalition board members brought to our attention, but there are many many more. Gerber has started something amazing, and we are impressed she has taken this major social problem head-on.

Benton County Sheriff Jerry Hatcher is on the coalition’s board of directors, and he told us he believes the group’s efforts could be the “gold standard in the nation.”

We think so too.