On Tuesday it was reported that 25-year old famous singer and actress Demi Lovato was hospitalized for a seeming heroin overdose before returning to a somewhat stable condition. Her sudden trauma resulted in heartfelt feelings from across the Internet and even beyond Hollywood, as many took this time to remind all that addiction and drugs are serious ailments not to be dismissed lightly.
Several months ago another person was treated for their drug addiction, albeit unfortunately with far more negative results. Matthew Mellon, a heir to the legendary Mellon banking family and a cryptocurrency-billionaire in his own right, passed away in rehab at the age of 54 after years of struggling with his addiction.
These situations are a stark reminder of a truth the American public has increasingly come to understand in recent years about the drug crisis, which is that it affects all from rich to poor, of all backgrounds, and as the poor results of the drug war have shown, is difficult to properly address with raw and simple heavy-handed tactics.
For many years the public response to people who were addicted was shaming them or seeing them as somehow failed humans compared to our better selves. However in recent years a big shift has happened, as epidemics such as the opioid crisis have ravaged communities of all kinds and are even now killing still an estimated 175 Americans a day or over 60,000 a year.
It is difficult to generalize about the nature of drug infestations in the United States. As studies have shown, part of the reason behind the opioid epidemic has been overzealous doctors and drug manufacturing companies a bit too hungry for profit. There are also even more complex links to drug runners who support their activities as a part of the illegal immigration flow, with over 80% of heroin in the United States being from foreign drug cartels as estimated by the federal government, as well as cultures of pressure and tolerance of the activity in “elite” industries.
Either way, the affliction that affects Demi Lovato is one that millions of Americans face. Indeed, it is estimated that in 2016 over 2 million Americans were addicted to opioids, which is why President Trump has declared the crisis a national public health emergency.
As Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who served briefly as chair of President Trump’s Opioid and Drug Abuse Commission, said in October 2017: “We consume 85% of all the opioids in the world in this country… [t]his is the AIDS epidemic of our generation, but even worse.”
Recent policy and public attitudes have begun to adopt a more understanding approach towards those who are addicted rather than simply punishing them for situations which often they either had little control in, were taken advantage of, or made a mistake and were thrown on a dark path of deep physical dependence.
It is difficult to blame someone addicted to opioids because a corrupt doctor purposely overprescribed them. It is also difficult to find a way out for many of these people, who often already were economically struggling and in some of our nation’s most impoverished regions such as Appalachia.
We do not know the precise nature of how Demi Lovato came to her drug addiction nor her precise struggles with breaking out of it. Based on her public statements and songs, she previously stated that she had been addicted but then seemingly had broken free. However this past summer it appears she may have relapsed, as her song “Sober” seemingly implied she had returned to her addiction as so many do.
Drugs are horrific for both their immediate hosts as well as all those close to the primary user and addict. I know my prayers are with Demi Lovato and I know those of many millions of Americans are with her as well, precisely because her situation is so representative of the immense challenges and struggles America is facing with dealing with the opioid crisis.
It is undoubtedly a historic internal challenge for our country to figure out how to clean ourselves of the ravages of such vile chemicals on our physical bodies, but it is a struggle that must be fought and won. We will prevail through compassion and understanding while remaining clear-eyed about the sources of these drugs and the underlying causes of use and addiction.
In the meantime, millions of Americans, Demi Lovato among them, are going to need our willpower and support.