Ignorance, prejudice and addiction treatment

To the editor:

When I was a Marine MP walking a post in the ‘90’s, I saw firsthand the impact of substance abuse. Every police officer does – one grim spectacle after another fueled by drugs and alcohol.

In my work as a prosecutor and defense attorney, I learned the stories behind the police calls. Stubborn (and often untreated) mental illnesses, a persistent recession, and, as we’ve wrapped up the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, an exploding number of cases of depression and PTSD among veterans have left more and more of our neighbors in the cycle of addiction.

But there is good news. The last five decades have seen a real increase in the efficacy of treatment programs for addicts. We know now what works. The National Institutes of Health have demonstrated that, like other chronic diseases, addiction can be effectively managed. Like hypertension, asthma or type I diabetes, treatment has been proven to work.

Like these other chronic conditions, addiction shows a high degree of relapse. Relapses are frustrating – for the diabetic and the addict – but with adjustments in treatment, they can be overcome. My time in the criminal justice system has proven that to me.

Not everyone, however, has the firsthand experiences that I’ve had. Many remain starkly ignorant of the research that supports addiction treatment as both public health and public safety policy. Sometimes those people rise to positions of influence and, sadly, bring their ignorance with them. Rep. Neal Kurk’s remarks last month serve as a prime example of that ignorance.

Appallingly, Representative Kurk, one of the GOP’s chief budget architects in Concord, told a committee that “without a measurable and appreciable result I can’t support substance abuse funding.”

At a time when heroin is killing hundreds, an important voice in the creation of New Hampshire’s budget seems unwilling or, worse, unable to take the time to do basic research into this crucial public safety and public health issue.

If we want to reduce the risk to both addict and citizen alike, if we want to save our neighbors from the cycle of addiction and return them to ranks of productive citizens, we need to move past the archaic prejudices of Representative Kurk and his colleagues and embrace evidence, research and practical experience. We owe it to our state’s future and our fellow citizens.

Joe Plaia


Categories: Letters to the Editor