Facing a crowd of approximately three hundred students and advisers, Linda S. Vail, in-county health officer, Aaron Emerson, recovering prescription drug addict, Elizabeth Hertel, Policy Director at Health and Human Services of Michigan, and John Stressman, leader of the Mason, Michigan police commission, inform their eager audience of the strikingly rising trend in prescription drug addiction, as well as heroin addiction.
Emerson shared his story as a struggling drug addict, who eventually had to spend a year in Igham county jail. He shared that his addiction began with Vicodin, and then he strayed to Oxycontin. But eventually, he went down an even more dangerous path, and began using heroin. Although more dangerous, it was cheaper, at only ten dollars per bag. Emerson noted that he switched due to the monetary aspect.
“My Oxycontin habit was forty dollars for one pill, which would last a day,” Emerson said.
Emerson currently works with those who are addicts, most of which are homeless. Giving back to the community that supported him and pushed him to get on the proper path to recovery was one of the coping mechanisms he’s used to stay clean.
Students were given the opportunity to ask questions as they pleased to the panel. After a student prompted him, you could hear a pin drop in the lecture room when Emerson began to describe how he knew he was a true drug addict.
“I became physically dependent,” Emerson said. “My body was begging me to put drugs in my system. It’s something I never want to go back to.”
Eventually the student’s eager questions drifted the seminar into a discussion of another drug: Adderall. A student had asked whether physicians could be at fault for what could be an Adderall abusing epidemic. Hertel took the opportunity to explain as well as provide some facts.
“We have adapted prescribing guidelines,” Hertel said. “We have a prescription drug monitoring system. We can track how much is being prescribed and who they’re prescribing to.”
Vail took the opportunity to add that since the abuse of Adderall is sudden, health departments are indeed working on slowing the trend, but as of now, attempting to discontinue the abuse of prescription drugs is their number one priority. It had also been quite prominently noted that there is no evidence to either Vail or Hertel’s knowledge that Adderall is a gateway drug, a drug that could lead to prescription pills, and possibly even illegal drugs.
One student, Mackenzie Sprecher, a senior from Romeo High School as well as the co-Editor in Chief of their school’s newspaper, asked a question that seemed to take the panel, and several students, by surprise. She asked the panel to answer a question that has undoubtedly crossed the minds of several students in the room, as well as many people across the country: should addicts caught be charged on a criminal level for having an addiction/mental disease?
When the question was asked, looks of shock crossed all four member’s of the panel’s faces. After a few moments of silence, Stressman took the microphone and gave his opinion. He feels that addicts need treatment to get better, and sometimes getting them into jail is the only way to do so.
“Judicial systems are the only mechanism to get them treatment,” Stressman said.
Hertel took the microphone next and added the point of view that much of the health workers community share, and the statement brought some hard-hitting reality to the room. This gave a sort of rational for why addicts are indeed put into jail.
“This epidemic happened very quickly,” Hertel said. “We aren’t in front of it anymore, we’re chasing it.”
Before the panel made their ending remarks, Emerson chose to share a few words of wisdom that he’s gained along his journey.
“I was going through a lot in my life, but that’s no excuse to use drugs, because everybody goes through stuff,” Emerson said. “But remember, once you put down the drug there’s still a lot to work on.”
There was nothing but positive praise to be heard in the moments following the seminar. It is most certainly a topic that hits close to home for everyone. No one has to look very far to find someone struggling with addiction, or recovering. Hopefully, within the years to come, drug addiction won’t be a common threat, taking life after life every single day.