Change the Narrative

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In 2019, it’s easy to see a disconnect between how new discoveries in sciences and medicines are disseminated into the public pool of what one might call ‘common knowledge’. While no information will ever have a one-hundred percent coverage where everyone knows that thing and it is the most up-to-date thing no matter how long it remains in the public (some people believe the Earth is flat in 2019 and do not find it an odd position on the topic as just one extreme example), this doesn’t mean that a pursuit of spreading updated information is futile.

“Change the Narrative” is an initiative to get as close to bleeding edge knowledge as possible about addiction out to doctors, journalists, policymakers, lawyers, nurses and anywhere that can affect the public’s understanding of addiction being put together by Leo Beletsky and Zachary Siegel. Beletsky, an associate professor at Northeastern who studies opioid addiction, and Siegel, a journalist, have been especially aware of news stories and headlines that don’t seem to have up to date information when it comes to even framing the story. Much of the narrative comes from the War On Drugs, a policy enacted in 1971 by the Richard Nixon Administration and criminalized anything even remotely associated with illicit drugs. There was no nuance, no mercy, no choice.

It’s now been almost fifty years and the results speak for themselves; tough love, criminalization and spending money on prisons has not actually helped the drug problem and brings none of us closer to understanding addiction and how it changes otherwise peaceful and law abiding people into ‘deceptive thieves’,’ violent persons’ or otherwise invoke actions in a person that are socially unacceptable, as understood by the public.

“Substance use disorder is a diagnosable and treatable illness, yet one of the only ones that people are jailed for having,” Beletsky pointed out. “We don’t ask local sheriffs how they plan to tackle obesity or climate change in their community, but frequently they’re quoted as experts on this issue because addiction occupies this dueling category of crime and illness.”

Siegel added to the dire need for this change in public viewpoint by saying, “What we need to do is change the way people are talking about the deadliest public health crisis America has faced since HIV and AIDS.”

By changing the perception to of the problem to one not of personal responsibility but of mental and physical illness and disease, the very act of prevention is easier to get support for. For instance, back to the flat Earth phenomenon, if the majority of people thought the Earth was flat, it would be difficult to convince people to support sailing around the world because it’s literally sending someone to their death when they fall off the edge of the planet they’ll inevitably find. However, by knowing that the Earth is round, it’s quite easy to support such a project because that invisible obstacle that appeared based on false believes no longer exists.

Let’s hope the public is ready to take on new information.

Coke abuse and other substance use disorders are life threatening illnesses that require professional medical attention at addiction help centers like Northbound in St. Louis (855-858-6803). Calling this drug helpline will connect you with specialists and counselors that can discuss treatment options available.

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