As a person in recovery from addiction, I can speak to the devastation addiction brings. By the time I was in junior high, I was using drugs daily. This continued until I was in my mid-30s. By then I had given up custody of one of my two children. I had given up a promising career and given up hope of being in a healthy relationship. I had nearly given up on life several times.
By 1994 I was addicted to heroin. I remember feeling that my addiction was not out of control because I had a roof over my head and I had retained custody of my other child. I was not willing to see that I was in an abusive relationship and nearly destitute. I made good money working construction but ate from the food bank for almost half the year. I reached out for help in late 1994. When I called to get into treatment, I was given an assessment and told that the waiting list was about six weeks long. I began treatment just before Christmas that year. I was fortunate.
Today in Alaska, there are fewer treatment programs, fewer available beds or treatment slots. It is not uncommon for addicts to reach out for help only to be told that the waiting list can be three to six months. Detoxification programs are nearly nonexistent. They are only a part of a continuum of care that needs to provide appropriate levels of care for treatment to be successful. After 15 years of flat funding or decreases, our programs are barely able to meet the increased need for services. Nearly 54,000 Alaskans, or 11.2 percent of the population of the state, was addicted to alcohol or other drugs according to a recent study (McDowell Group, 2005).
The fallout from these addictions can be seen in our courts, jails, hospitals and foster care system. Families are torn by violence, death and disease associated with addiction to alcohol and other drugs. There are effective solutions to these problems and our state needs to take an honest look at where we are and where we are going if we don't support the programs that can provide those solutions.
Due to the stigma attached to the recovery and treatment community, society at large does not hear the success stories. I am here to testify that treatment saved my life. It provided me with the ability to stop using long enough to take an honest look at my life and learn the skills needed to live and enjoy my life without drugs, including alcohol. Treatment programs have helped thousands in our state go on to live as productive members of their communities. In order for this to be available, our state and local communities need to support treatment programs and recognize them as assets rather than liabilities.
Money to fund treatment programs is a wise investment. Even though some people relapse, it should not be used as a measure of success or failure of a program. People can return to communities as productive persons. Families can be reunited. Court systems and prisons can be relieved of some of the burden as people cease criminal behavior. For me, after treatment I was able to return to work, learn a new trade, rebuild my family and become active in the recovery community. I went from being nearly unemployable to holding down two positions as well as being a full-time college student. Because of the help I received in treatment, I found support in my community to continue my recovery. I no longer need to self-medicate to navigate my life. Now, I am physically and emotionally available and an asset to my family and community. A treatment program saved my life, just as treatment has for many Alaskans. We need to ensure that programs are available when people reach out for help.
Published: December 2, 2007
Anna Sappah serves on the Governor's Advisory Board on Alcohol and Drug Abuse. She is executive director of the Substance Abuse Directors Association of Alaska Inc. and a tobacco policy specialist for Akeela Inc.
source: Anchorage Daily News