It is tragic how our society treats people who are struggling with addiction. Our approach to law and justice has been to throw the book at people who violate these societal norms and make it all but impossible for them to rejoin society. They are stigmatized and shunned.
People of all walks of life suffer from addiction and punishing them until they get better is counterproductive. We would be better off in our communities and in society to the extent we can find ways to support people in recovery.
Addiction is seen by many people as a personal character flaw and a choice — an attitude that ignores key drivers of addiction behavior, such as childhood abuse, neglect and other traumas. It also ignores the intentional effort by large pharmaceutical companies to flood the market with opioids when their executives knew the addictive consequences. These companies, such as Purdue Pharma owned by the Sackler family, made a conscious choice to destroy the lives of hundreds of thousands of people for the sake of profit. It is a tragic commentary on our economic system when killing people in the name of profits merits monetary fines but no jail time for people who knowingly caused such death and suffering.
I am impressed by efforts being made in our area to help us see the humanity of people who are struggling with addiction, regardless of how it happened. The Central Washington Recovery Coalition is doing wonderful work supporting people who are struggling to get out of the cycle of addiction.
Their latest project to destigmatize addiction and recovery involves a series of short videos produced by Digital Media Northwest that tells the story of people in our region who have struggled and are recovering. I sat down with Dominick Bonny of DMNW to hear his insights after hearing the stories of these individuals.
In every story, Bonny said, the individuals described childhood traumas that influenced the path they took. It brought to his mind a quote from Oscar Wilde that appears in the book “Tightrope” by Nicholas Kristof: “Every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future.”
Children from dysfunctional families didn’t choose to grow up in that environment and most often don’t have effective coping skills to deal with the stresses of life. This should inspire our empathy rather than cold judgment.
Bonny, a Sunnyside native, said he was lucky to be born into a family with strong values and he thinks that helped set him up to resist some of the temptations of drugs. Bonny had his own brush with potential addiction when he was prescribed opioids following surgery. He said his strong upbringing and coping skills helped him avoid the trap of addiction.
My heart and my thanks go out to those who agreed to tell their stories of addiction for the series of videos, including Nokey Pando, Sahlly Trevino, Lyndsey Roberts, Karen Hicks, Joey Hunter and Victor Estrada.
They are living proof that recovery is possible and that finding ways to help those struggling with addiction can help break the cycle that will almost inevitably be visited upon the next generation. These are human beings, after all.
We are making strides in providing more support. The drug court in Chelan County is a positive step to helping people rather than just punishing them.
If you would like to understand a little of what it’s like to have been down the road of addiction and are in recovery, check out the remarkable stories on the Central Washington Recovery Coalition’s YouTube channel: https://wwrld.us/CWRC
The stories will both break and warm your heart.
Rufus Woods is the publisher emeritus of The Wenatchee World. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 509-665-1162.