Open hearts for addiction’s victims


To the Editor:

Addiction is a very misunderstood subject and a devastating disease many of our Islanders suffer, be it directly or indirectly through someone we love.

First, to correct an earlier letter of mine, the five-year span, in which 3,265 people were reported to have accidentally overdosed and died from opiates (meaning narcotic pain medication or heroin), was from 2002 to 2007. This statistic can be found in the report of “Recommendations of the OxyContin and Heroin Commission, Commonwealth of Massachusetts, November 2009.”

The report also states, “Nearly 70 percent of inmates in state and local prisons throughout the country admit to regular drug abuse.” I wonder how many of our population would be in prison if drugs or alcohol were not the primary reason for the arrest. Are we arresting true criminals, or people suffering with a true medical disorder of addiction?

In the last year, a law was passed stating addiction to be a chronic disease deserving chronic treatment [Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (HR 3590)] with the approach and attitude to parallel someone suffering, for example, from diabetes. Also, when treating addiction disorder, taking into account the potential of mental illness contributing to the triggered use of drugs and alcohol.

What I think the general public and law enforcement fail to recognize is, most addicts do not want to live the life they are living. Drug use can start on a recreational level, or perhaps as medication prescribed to treat pain. Due to the powerful addictive properties of narcotics, and changes that occur in the brain from using, it puts victims in a world they would never have volunteered for had they known the outcome.

Our youth finds chemical use as socially acceptable as our adults find alcohol use. It’s interesting to me that alcohol is legal, more socially acceptable, and yet, in the long run, more physically damaging to the brain and vital organs than opiates. Opiates are more vastly abused due to the powerfulness of the addictive nature in the brain. With our emotions being the root source of many decisions we make, doesn’t it make sense that an adolescent who is struggling with emotional deregulation and what seems like chaos in their lives will take something to decrease that emotional distress?

The brain does not complete full physical maturation until about age 25. And, with drug use, the brain will physically continue to grow; however, it stops growing mentally and emotionally during chemical use, which makes the breeding ground for mental health syndromes. Here begins the burden for the individual, families, schools, and communities to help cope with, as well as endure, such emotionally altered syndromes as bi-polar, depression, anxiety, insomnia, suicide, and/or accidental overdose so closely related to chemical dependency coexisting with mental illness.

We live in a society of immediate gratification, success defined by our external status, and a strong-shall-conquer-the-weak type of mentality. On top of that, living on the Island, we live in the perfect environment for mental health and addiction disorder to coexist naturally. We are bi-polar, with our intense changes in weather and population, and we are isolated, being an island. Next come anxiety, depression, and insomnia with the disparities giving way to extreme emotional peaks and valleys whereby, in the immediate-gratification existence, we think a drug or drink will resolve the emotional uneasiness.

Please open your hearts and minds to show your support for changes in our health-care system for more appropriate treatment in the area of addiction in the medical and legal arenas. Please write your local congressmen, newspaper, and visit the site

Kelly Wheeler RN, CADAC

Vineyard Haven