Editor’s Note: Carol Costello is the host of “Across America with Carol Costello” on HLN. The views expressed in this commentary are her own.
Carol Costello: I expected blowback after writing about heroin addiction in my hometown in Ohio
But I did not expect so many people to say heroin addicts do not deserve our help, Costello writes
Dale Batdorff heard God’s voice on a Sunday morning, as he cradled his dead, 21-year-old son in his arms. His beautiful boy – once a star athlete who dreamed of becoming a firefighter – had just overdosed on heroin.
“The Lord spoke very clearly,” Batdorff told me. God “wanted me to do something so other parents would not have to deal with this.”
Batdorff’s compassion for others – even on his worst day – floored me. But he knew then what everyone must know now – drug addiction affects all of us.
I wrote about the devastating effects that heroin addiction had on my hometown – Canton, Ohio – last week. I expressed concern about proposed cuts to Medicaid and the rollback of Obamacare. According to a Harvard/NYU study done earlier this year, 220,000 Ohioans with addiction or mental health disorders now have coverage under Obamacare – 151,257 through the Medicaid expansion and 69,225 under private insurance purchased through the marketplace.
I expected blowback, but I did not expect so many people to say heroin addicts do not deserve our help. A few examples of comments posted in response to the piece: “While tragic … addicts are addicts of their own choosing. I don’t want to fund their bad choices in life.” And, “How about government funding to send me to a healthclub because I am overweight?”
You get the drift. And so does Batdorff. “I’ve had people stand in front of me and say those words,” he said. “They are talking out of total ignorance.” Still, he understands why some say such things and, I suspect, so do a lot of people who grew up, as I did, in the Midwest. We are loath to ask for help. Especially from the government. We pride ourselves for our self-sufficiency, sense of responsibility, moral behavior and hard work.
Batdorff says felt that way too – before his son died of an overdose. “I’d look at him with such disgust. He just needed to man up. It can’t be that friggin’ hard,” he’d say to his son. “Just stop.”
But, experts say, it really is that friggin’ hard to stop. Dr. Ann DiFrangia counsels dozens of opioid and heroin addicts at Akron General Hospital. “People describe it (the high) as a trip to heaven,” she told me. “Nothing in the natural world gives you the same high.” Not love, not sex, not … anything.
The drug hijacks your pleasure center and will not let go. Doctors told me it often takes up to seven times through rehab for an addict to take control of his or her addiction. There is no cure. Once an addict, always an addict. That’s why so many people, like Batdorff’s son Dustin, die.
Dustin was a handsome, popular guy. He grew up in Jackson Township, Ohio, in an affluent school district. He got hooked when a friend of his offered him the opioid Oxycontin – a legal drug the friend had been prescribed for pain.
Dustin, like so many other young men and women, tried it, never expecting he would come to need it so badly. In a few months, Dustin resorted to heroin – a drug that gives you a similar high. In just nine months, a day before he was set to go into rehab, Dustin was dead.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than half a million people died from drug overdoses between 2000 and 2015. Averaged over time, 91 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose.
These numbers show we are in the midst of an epidemic. If we truly believe heroin addiction is a choice, the question is, why do so many people want to die?
The short answer is: they don’t. “It’s a disease,” Batdorff told me. “A medical disorder.” One with no easy fix.
In fact, rehab, and the withdrawal that comes with it, is far worse than the disease. Says Dr. DiFrangia: “Getting off of heroin, being without it after your body is used to it, is as close to a trip to hell as anyone will have in this lifetime.”
There is even a term for it: dope sick. “We can tell them (addicts) that they are not going to die,” DiFrangia said. “But every cell tells them it’s impending doom. [They feel like] ‘if I don’t get my next fix, [I’m] going to die.’”
I know some of you are still asking why this is your problem. A few other things to consider: It’s easy and cheap to score heroin. Ask your kid if he or she knows how to get it. Go ahead. Do it. I bet they’ll provide you with quite an education. DiFrangia put it more bluntly: “Many people, who are simply good, innocent people … don’t even know there’s heroin in their neighborhood until they find their son unconscious on the floor, blue.”
Addiction fuels crime. Our jails are overflowing with addicts who commit and re-commit petty crimes – or worse – to fund their habits. Think capitalism – supply and demand. Cut off the demand and there will be no need for heroin. Or think about it this way: you are paying to house, feed and clothe all of those addicts in jail. Why then not pay for these addicts to get help instead?
If you still are not convinced, just listen to your better selves. Dale Batdorff heeded God’s call that terrible day. In the wake of his son’s death, he and his wife founded a chapter of a survivor’s group called SOLACE. The acronym stands for Surviving Our Loss And Continuing Every Day.
Doesn’t Jesus teach us to love one another? It’s time we “man up” and remember we’re in this world – together.