Recently, President Donald Trump visited the state of New Hampshire to address the growing opioid and substance abuse crisis ravaging the United States. His plan includes the death penalty for drug traffickers.
He is also urging members of Congress to pass legislation that reduces the number of drugs that would result in mandatory prison sentences for drug traffickers.
While these efforts by the President are noteworthy, I wanted to emphasize a practical approach to addressing this growing public health problem. Which by the way not only affects the United States but the whole world in general!
The opioid epidemic is a huge public health burden that needs to be addressed ASAP so that it doesn’t wipe out an entire generation. As we all know, too many lives are being lost on a daily basis as a result of the crisis. This realization, therefore, calls for a more concerted effort by different stakeholders in addressing this humongous public health problem.
Drawing from my experience with a local non-governmental agency that addresses this burden in my local community, I have come up with a more practical, community-centered approach geared towards addressing this problem.
My approach has been summed into FOUR and for ease of remembrance termed the ABC and D of dealing with the opioid and substance abuse crisis at the community level.
The ABCD’s of addressing the Opioid and substance abuse crisis at the level of the Community.
Before delving more into these methods, it is important to highlight that this opioid and addiction problem is not a burden reserved for an exclusive group of people. This is a huge problem that should get each and every one of us worried.
Addressing this problem at the community level requires a lot of group and individual commitments to seeing that public health efforts are both successful, as well as sustainable.
The ABCD’s are
- Branching Out
- Consensus Building
People would generally not own a problem unless they understand how it affects them. And this is where a data-driven approach comes in. There is so much data out there that attempts to characterize the huge public health scourge that an opioid crisis causes. Carrying out advocacy efforts should entail using and interpreting data as it affects individual communities. So, for instance, the Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) I mentioned uses the data specific to my local community in designing programs and campaigns as it specifically relates to my local community. Presenting such information with clarity to the important stakeholders is a great way to garner support and create an atmosphere of “this is our problem” vs. “this is their/your problem”. Advocacy at the local community level is absolutely essential to secure community buy-in to this huge societal burden.
After spearheading advocacy efforts, it is important for public health and social workers to branch out into the community and sees firsthand for themselves how the opioid crisis directly impact the lives of their constituents. For example, this NGO carries out branching out activities by organizing walks and other health education campaigns in the local community. When we do branch out, we have the opportunity to meet one-on-one with families who have been affected directly (including the loss of their loved ones) with the opioid crisis. And in some cases, family members have been the ones that have taken us to the hinterlands and locations where their wards are located. In this way, we are able to reach people that we otherwise may not have been able to reach. Thus, it is not enough to do all the paperwork without actually sending people out on foot to branch out into the community. This not only stimulates community buy-in but also gives ownership of the problem to individual communities.
All your efforts at making people live better lives may be useless if the people you are trying to improve do not buy-in or agree with all your efforts. So, for us, we build consensus with this incredible people by first approaching them in a non-judgmental fashion, making them understand that they all deserve a second chance at making better decisions with their lives. In doing this, we go under the bridges with food and other household supplies and are able to have meaningful conversations with these people. A community health initiative is more likely to succeed if the people targeted with a campaign are willing to own the effort/problem.
Yes, proposing measures to discourage drug traffickers from taking away more lives may be a good idea in some quarters. But, what about the lives that have been negatively impacted by this huge problem? Many of these victims are broken people. Their lives have been changed significantly and dramatically as a result of the ill effects of addiction. Many of them lack valuable work or social skills. Therefore, if you must take out something from their lives (in this case drug and substance addiction), then you must be willing to replace it with something else. So, for this organization that I consult for, we have training and re-training activities for these individuals as a way of reintegrating them back into the society. Skills training such as CPR, First Aid, AED and blood products are provided for this group with the aim of making them valuable members of their communities. Some of these folks have even gone back to school with many graduating out of high school and college. Therefore, in the midst of trying to clean people up, we must also be willing to empower them with the tools to become more valuable members of our communities and the society. Otherwise, all our efforts may as well just be futile.
In summary, the opioid and substance abuse crisis is indeed a huge global and public health burden. We need to do more with spreading the word about the deadly effects and consequences of this kind of lifestyle.
Personally, I believe that we now have more tools available to spread our message. Social media and the internet have become so handy that we can conveniently start and spread a global movement by just having the word out.
Social media has been incredibly helpful in spreading the word about several research projects that I am a part of. And I am certain that with the right message and tone of acceptance and inclusivity, we have the potentials to save a dying generation from the scourge of the opioid epidemic.
Thanks for reading.