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deathThe New Year is supposed to be a time of happiness and hope. For one family however it is a time of grief, loss and mourning. I just found out that a neighbor of mine (we’ll call him “Guy”) died from an overdose the day after New Year’s.

It seems that in the wee hours of this brand new year Guy made a phone call and had someone make a delivery. He never even made it back inside the house but collapsed outside. 911 was called, Narcan was administered, but he never regained consciousness. He died the following day in a hospital.

Now I wasn’t close friends with Guy, I would see him on the street or in front of his house, at block parties or barbecues, but he seemed a nice enough guy. From what I saw he was always willing to give a hand to a neighbor, attentive to his young daughter’s needs and safety, for the holidays his front yard was packed with ornaments and decorations. He never came off to me as an addict (and I don’t know that he was), just as someone rough around the edges that hadn’t had the benefit of higher education.

That decision Guy made to try and extend or enhance his new year’s festivities left his parents without a son, his siblings with our brother, is significant other without a mate and his daughter without a father, not to mention the loss to relatives and friends.

Addiction is a terrible disease, but not all drug-related deaths are the result of addiction. It is the use of drugs that puts one at risk of death, that risk is just exponentially higher with addiction.

Let’s look at the players and their roles. There is Guy, acting on an impulse to increase his enjoyment of the New Year festivities. I’m sure when he picked up the phone he did not know he was calling death, he did not know that he was about to deprive his daughter of a father, he did not know he was going to deprive his family of his life, he did not know he was going to deprive his significant other of a mate. I’m sure he had the expectation that he knew what he was getting and he knew what to do with it.

Then there’s the person that got called. Whether it was a friend or a dealer, they were the distributor. This person may or may not have known what exactly it was that they were providing. Whatever the case, in this instance, they were the messenger of death. Their concern was the fulfillment of a favor or financial gain. There was no concern for Guy’s well-being or the welfare of those in his life.

substance abuseThe drug/substance itself had no control of its chemical composition, purity or potency. It had no power to transport itself from Point A to Point B. It lacked the capacity to administer itself and, as an inert substance, has no conscience, feelings, malice, good will, or reasoning. Ultimately, though a major player in the situation, the substance is not “responsible” for the death, but it is the actions and choices of the people involved that are responsible.

Now some might say that “moderation” or “responsible” use of substances is okay, or will prevent serious consequences from developing, but the truth is that it is a game of Russian roulette. Marijuana can be laced, drinks can be spiked, powders can be cut, pills can be counterfeit. Operating on assumptions and good faith is not a guaranteed methodology when it comes to your safety and well-being.

The bottom line is, What is your life worth and what are the lives of your friends and loved ones worth? As a user, you need to take responsibility for your own continued well-being as well as the consequences to your friends and loved ones because of your actions. As a friend or loved one, you need to try and help a user to make better decisions. You can’t force someone to change if they don’t want to, but you don’t have to be an enabler or co-conspirator to their irresponsible actions. Encourage them to make positive decisions. Separate yourself from their negative decisions. Promote a climate of positivity, well-being and pleasure that does not involve the use of substances.

We are all in this together, and pointless loss of life affects us all in some way directly or indirectly. Enjoying our lives to the fullest should be the plan for us and our loved ones and death from old age should be our shared goal.

condolence handsMy condolences go out to all that have suffered loss because of substances, and to a society that desperately wants to believe that blaming the victims is the way to solve the problems that it doesn’t want to acknowledge its part in. Recreational use of substances is quietly permitted, but when it escalates the user is stigmatized and ostracized. Doctors and psychiatrists prescribe habit-forming drugs without proper supervision or sufficient withdrawal management when the regimen is done. The go-to fix for psychological and social disorders is medication rather than intensive case-specific therapy.

These problems span cultural, ethnic, economic and social boundaries. No one is immune. But solving these issues requires that each and every one of us take responsibility each and every day for ourselves and our loved ones - and not depend on the system, government or society to solve these issues for us.

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