How Can Community Organizations Work to Reduce Addiction?

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The public health emergency of addiction is not something that will be easily overcome. We are now two decades into what might be this nation’s worst-ever drug problem. Government and individual efforts alike have not been sufficient in addressing this problem. That means it will take more energy, more dedication, and more commitment from communities, towns, cities, and counties to overcome this crisis.

How can community organizations that exist in every town across America do their part to help address the addiction nightmare? We know that addiction exists in every city across America. What can community organizations in those towns do to combat the epidemic?

Police Departments Learning Arrests Not A Solution for Addiction

Several police departments across the U.S. are changing the way law enforcement tackles addiction. Thanks to the War on Drugs, the norm has been to arrest addicts, even for minor possession crimes. However, police departments are fast learning that arresting someone who’s only “crime” is to have an addiction is not an effective way of addressing the problem.

In the last few years, some police departments have created law enforcement diversion programs. Such programs allow police officers to assist addicts in finding treatment, not jail time. That approach avoids arrest and incarceration and instead allows law enforcement organizations to assist addicts in getting the help that they need. Some examples of such programs include:

  • The Way Out Program in Lake County, Illinois
  • The STEER Program in Montgomery County, Maryland
  • The Arlington Opiate Outreach Initiative in Arlington, Massachusetts
  • The LEAD program in King County, Washington.

There are about 18,000 police departments in the United States. At this time, only a select few police departments are helping addicts find treatment instead of incarceration. If all police departments utilized a more proactive, rehabilitation-first approach, we’d see more addicts getting help. And we’d see a reduction in excessive incarceration rates at the same time.

Museums Provide Addiction Awareness Campaigns

Museum entrance
(Photo by FLuigi Bertello/Shutterstock.com)

Most cities have a museum of some kind. Some museums are private, whereas others are publicly funded. Either way, museums take a vested interest in the communities that they call home. Therefore, museums could also do a world of good in addressing the drug problem.

One museum in Pennsylvania called the Awareness Museum offers 30 permanent art exhibits that provide a comprehensive and insightful view of addiction and drug abuse. The presentations provide visitors with an unprecedented way of learning about addiction through various art mediums.

Museums are bastions of culture and education in a worrisome world. Museums should recognize the drug problems of their cities and make an effort to raise awareness about them. Using the arts to express the physical and mental trials of a 21st-century addiction nightmare can be a great way to raise awareness and educate the public on the severity of this issue.

Libraries Educating Public On Opioid Crisis

Just about every city has a local library. Even small, rural towns have libraries. For decades, centuries even, libraries have served as a focal point for community action. Libraries are a place where residents gather to learn, to engage in local activities, and to be a part of the community. Since drug addiction is a community problem just as much as it is an individual problem, libraries are a community institution perfectly poised to address the problem.

Some libraries have already taken on the responsibility of educating their patrons on the opioid crisis and other aspects of the drug problem. Some libraries provide resources to concerned family members and loved ones of addicts. Other libraries have been known to organize community conversations on the drug problem, an activity that raises awareness of the drug crisis and engenders a community-based response to it. What a handful of libraries are now doing to combat addiction should serve as an example of something that all libraries across America should be doing.

Schools Providing Drug Education

Schools Lessons

Schools may be one of the most enormous, untapped resources for tackling the drug problem. One of the biggest problems with addiction and recreational drug use among youth is that young people don’t know the truth about drugs and alcohol before they start experimenting with substances. If schools took a more direct role in drug education (and if schools worked with parents on this as well), fewer young people would start using drugs and alcohol in the first place. Teachers could organize educational seminars and workshops on drugs and alcohol, seeking to proactively show students why they wouldn’t want to use drugs and alcohol. School leadership could correlate school-based efforts with parental efforts to educate youth on the harms of drugs and alcohol.

One could say that schools are the physical, social, and psychological “home away from home” for young people. As most addicts began drug use in their adolescent or young adult years, it makes sense that a successful, active, preventive effort would be to implement educational programs in schools. There are lots of different ways this could be done. The bottom line is that the more factual information young people have on the adverse side effects, risk factors, and dangers of drugs and alcohol, the less likely they are to experiment with such substances.

It’s not enough to tell young people not to use drugs. They have to be shown why they should not use drugs. Schools provide a unique environment to do just that.

Churches Supporting Community Solutions For Addiction

No matter the denomination, a church is a bastion of morality and virtue in a troubled world. Just about every town in America has at least one church. Churches stand in a unique position to use their congregations and their commitments to morality and virtuous living to encourage a drug-free life among its members.

In an article titled, “Why Churches Matter in the Fight Against Addiction,” Ericka Andersen wrote some inspiring words on the subject. “When The Washington Post published a powerful series of stories last year about families dealing with addiction issues, it overwhelmingly illustrated that these people weren’t simply random casualties of failed government, but also self-destructive, hopeless, and lonely. It’s the spiritual and personal side that the government cannot address in a tangible way. That takes people. That takes churches. That takes sacrifice, inconvenience, compassion, and discomfort for friends, family, and community.”

Ericka’s words ring loud and clear in today’s society. Addiction is a community problem, a spiritual problem, a personal crisis, and a behavioral difficulty all wrapped together. The addiction epidemic cannot be overcome with government efforts alone. There is an undeniable spiritual side to addiction. Churches can organize efforts at helping addicts find treatment, at helping addicts resume normal adult life post-treatment, at raising awareness for addiction and the drug problem, etc.

Creating a Drug-Free Future

Some research suggests that there are about 19 to 20 million people in the U.S. who struggle with a drug or alcohol problem. The actual numbers may be much higher than that. But with addiction as prevalent as it now is, most people probably know someone who is addicted. If we know someone who needs help, we need to ensure that they get help. And we need to have community institutions that we can turn to for support.

The drug problem will not go away on its own. Addiction in America will continue to get worse if we do not work together to address it. Residential drug treatment centers that offer long-term care can provide effective solutions for addicts. However, addicts cannot always find treatment easily. That is where community support comes into play. Communities can do a world of good to ensure that addicts find and gain access to treatment.


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Reviewed by Claire Pinelli, ICAADC, CCS, LADC, RAS, MCAP

AUTHOR

Ren

After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.

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DRUG EDUCATION AND REHABILITATION