In a recent front-page story (June 7, 2019), the Herald-Standard carried another chilling story on the disastrous consequences of drug abuse in Fayette County. Even as the statewide rate of newborns suffering from Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) has slightly declined statewide in the past two years, our county tells a different tale. According to the story, 49.7 Fayette newborns per thousand are hospitalized compared to the statewide average of 14.4 per thousand. That is more than triple the average county rate. This is heartbreaking. Moreover, the medical problems wrought by a newborn's exposure to drugs while in the mother's womb often continue into adulthood. Regardless, the direct NAS related costs added over $15 million in hospital payments with Medicaid footing most of the bill.
I follow with much sadness the many articles published by the Herald-Standard on our county's exploding illegal drug plague. It is difficult to imagine how any reader would be unmoved by these articles. My interest in the problem of addiction is neither from a medical nor law enforcement view. It is pastoral. I can make no claim to any scientific expertise or specialized knowledge of any sort on this topic. But after 50 years of pastoring churches, I am much acquainted with the unspeakable degradation, devastation, and the dehumanizing results of drug and alcohol addiction.
Please allow a personal note. At the age of 19 and after several weeks in a field hospital, I was hospitalized for nearly 13 months at Walter Reed hospital and eventually endured an amputation. While there, I also became hooked on pain pills. The misery and struggle I experienced while trying to escape this addiction were overwhelming. Without God's mercy, deliverance would most likely never have happened. Thus, I can only imagine the agony that those who are addicted to hard drugs or alcohol must experience every day.
The "cost" of addiction can never be fully measured in dollars. This, even though, the financial burden to an addicted individual, their family, and ultimately, the taxpayer is tens of thousands of dollars. Still, that expense pales in comparison with the related human suffering, degradation, despair, and other societal consequences.
Nonetheless, I question the wisdom or benefit of policymakers and medical personnel defining these afflicted by addiction as “victims of "disease." When does an individual become responsible for their choices or actions? It seems that such "disease" designation is more befitting of a political policy statement rather than to a reasoned scientific or medical argument. An exception may be made with newborn victims suffering from NAS. They are innocent. This most likely is an illustration of God's oft-repeated warning to parents that their willful "iniquity" will also be "visited upon their children."
Many physicians and psychologists know that an "addiction" does not meet the specified criteria or "measurable deviation from a physiologic or anatomical norm to be considered a disease." An actual disease always worsens if left untreated. Addiction is self-acquired and is not spread by personal contact or airborne contagion. Addiction is not contagious, hereditary, degenerative, nor traumatically induced. Unlike most diseases, an addict's or drunkard's treatment and cure amount to doing little more than stopping a specific behavior.
This hesitancy to identify "addiction" as a real disease should in no way diminish the compelling need for compassion and treatment for those so afflicted. But that help will only be delayed so long as there continues the growing societal discounting of individual responsibility and the unwillingness to concede any personal blame for the bad choices we make. Until the mid-20th century, addictions to alcohol or drugs were considered character failures, moral weakness, foolish behavior, or a sure indication of spiritual debasement. The societal "treatment" of those times involved ridicule, shaming, and demands for more "will power" and, in some cases, incarceration.
Additionally, much of the addiction tragedy is a result of a willful and arrogant disregard of every appeal and warning and the refusal to consider the ample testimony and examples of the grave dangers inherent in drug usage and booze. However, it is understandable that this is not always the case. The plight of those who, perhaps due to some protracted and unbearable physical or emotional pain, and who conversely assumed they were destitute of other help may have turned to alcohol or drugs. Surely such a situation ought to demand our compassion. And even though such harmful choices can neither be condoned nor justified, at the least, they should elicit our sympathy.
Also, peer pressure or a bad home environment may encourage those with little self-esteem to be enticed with drugs or booze. It is also true that some who are fleeing some unresolved guilt feelings seek refuge in self-medication. There is no denying that drug cartels and gangs, and freelance dealers are all significant contributors to this deadly plague. These pushers and predators with their insatiable greed for the blood money have all perfected their tactics, enticements, and skills for capturing new customers and victims.
Finally, there is no doubt in my mind that behind the scenes and taking advantage of our human frailty, and abetting the world's insatiable desire for pleasure, and utilizing the inordinate greed for the money which drug trafficking produces is none other than Satan himself. If this is so, then the ultimate deliverance from the slavery and death of drug addiction is to be found in Christ the Lord.
William "Ed" Nicholson is a native of this area. He is pastor of the Grace Baptist Chapel at the village of Little Summit in Dunbar Twp. He has earned graduate degrees in both Bible and in Education Administration. He may be reached at Willnpa9@ Gmail.com or by phone at 724-626-1264