Opportunity and hope as ways to remedy drug addiction

There’s a giant, pervasive elephant in the room of Appalachia’s bright economic future: drug addiction. Literally billions of dollars have been spent trying to remedy this problem that has claimed thousands of lives and shattered thousands more. But it persists. The Lexington Herald-Leader editorial board suggests a root cause of this epidemic: “The most basic reason for this frustrating, tragic and expensive stalemate is lack of opportunity.” (Photo from Destination360)

The editorial goes on:

“Noting that a key predictor for drug abuse is low social rank, [Herald-Leader reporter Bill] Estep quoted Robert Walker, a researcher at the University of Kentucky's Center for Drug and Alcohol Research. ‘It's the belief that I can't do anything to fix this or make my life any better,’ Walker told Estep. ‘That is a profound risk condition for drug abuse.’

This is the same finding researchers elsewhere report. ‘Addiction always has a social element, and this is magnified in societies with little in the way of work or other ways to find fulfillment,’ David Nutt, a British researcher, told The New York Times.

The Times reported on the findings of Columbia University's Carl Hart, whose research with crack and meth users found they turned down drug use when an attractive alternative was presented in the form of a monetary reward, even though it was delayed — a rational response. The response when no reward is on the horizon is equally rational, according to Hart. ‘If you're living in a poor neighborhood deprived of options, there's a certain rationality to keep taking a drug that gives you some temporary pleasure,’ Hart said.”

The solution for Appalachia, the Herald-Leader says, is “both simple and overwhelming: Change the economic and social environment.”

And that’s just what so many organizations, groups and individuals inside and outside the region are trying to do. If we can create more and better opportunities for Appalachian people, perhaps we can start changing attitudes about what is possible and provide a sense of hope that will be more pervasive than the death-grip of drug addiction.

As the editorial puts it: “We no longer can tolerate, or afford, the human wreckage that grows out of despair.”