HUDSON–To confront substance abuse “we’re doing a lot of work, but we aren’t doing what is needed,” Kamal Johnson, Hudson mayoral candidate and current alderman (D First Ward), said at a Hudson Eye Hot Topics presentation August 25.
Hudson Eye was a program in Hudson from August 23 through September 2 featuring art, performances, and presentations on timely topics. The August 25 presentation on substance abuse featured Mr. Johnson and two PhD psychologists: Jeff Foote and Carrie Wilkens, who co-founded the Center for Motivation and Change. The center specializes in “the treatment of substance use disorders and other compulsive behaviors using only evidence-based therapies,” according to literature passed out at the event.
“Everybody says, ‘We can’t arrest ourselves out of the problem.’ So let’s educate ourselves out of it,” said Mr. Johnson. Hudson is averaging two overdoses a month. “That’s scary for a city so small,” Mr. Johnson said. The Columbia County Department of Health is developing a database that will tell where the overdoses are, he announced, adding, “People use drugs out of desperation: both depression and because of things going on in the country and the world.”
Dr. Foote reported that “for everybody with a substance abuse problem, an average of four people are affected,” a toll that includes family members, whom both he and Dr. Wilkens implied need help as much as the person with the problem.
“Twenty-five to 30-million people in the US have substance abuse disorders,” said Dr. Foote. “There are epidemics after epidemics after epidemics.” But, “90% of the people who need treatment aren’t getting it.” And only two percent of the affected families are getting help.”
Reasons suggested by the speakers included not recognizing some addictions, insufficient professional training and shame.
Mr. Johnson recounted visiting a classroom where a student said to him, ‘I’m not addicted. I just use juuls.’ Later the same student remarked, ‘If I don’t get my vape, I get cranky.’
“That’s addiction!” Mr. Johnson said.
Dr. Foote said that “much training for mental health professionals leaves out addiction.”
“Some service providers don’t want addiction training,” added Dr. Wilkens.
In addition , “one thing that causes people not to seek help when they need it is shame,” said Dr. Wilkens. “Parents are often blamed for the problem—for causing it and not fixing it. Guilt by association.”
“Some families go underground because of the stigma of addiction,” she added. “People have bake sales to raise money for their child’s cancer treatment but not for their child’s addiction treatment.”
As for education, Mr. Johnson told about an eight-week program for all students, where each group gets $1,000 for a project about drug abuse. For example, last year they had a poster contest. From the program, some students get scholarships. In either case, the program is a learning experience. “Some students go into it thinking all youths are on drugs.”
As for treatment, Dr. Foote said, “Telling someone to stop using “just doesn’t do it. There’s a Scottish proverb: ‘They speak of my drinking, but not of my thirst.’ We need to help with the thirst.”
“Treatment needs to be individualized,” said Mr. Johnson.
Dr. Wilkens noted, “Some people choose labels like ‘addict’ as part of their identity and help in recovery. But if someone else tells you, ‘You’re an addict,’ you might get defensive.”
“Some people have to be near their families; others need to get away,” said Mr. Johnson.
“Some people will never talk to psychological help, but will talk to a minister,” said Dr. Wilkens.
Meanwhile, “families are given tools that are not what they need and not effective. Families have no idea what to do. These are the worst problems they’ve ever had, the scariest,” said Dr. Foote.
“There are evidence-based ways to help, but most services and training are poor and not evidence based,” he continued. “How do we take ideas based on 30-40 years’ experience and get them to people who need them?”
Both Dr. Foote and Dr. Wilkens advocated developing grassroots family groups and networks, parent-led support groups, and setting up telephone coaches. They also suggested approaching clients by inviting them to change. “You don’t so something that’s not re-enforced,” said Dr. Foote.
In the question and answer segment, a visitor from San Francisco called attention to “MD-enabled addiction. I’ve never done street drugs. But I was once addicted to codeine because an MD prescribed it. My parents didn’t cause my addiction, my doctor did.”
Jonah Bokaer, a choreographer, called attention to “addiction among some different communities such as artists.” Mr. Bokaer is founder and director of the Jonah Bokaer Arts Foundation that launched Hudson Eye.
One man asked, “Have you found most people are stepping away from their addicted family members?”
“No,” answered Dr. Foote. “In fact, families should stay connected to addicted member, but also take care of themselves.”
Emile Bokaer, Jonah Bokaer’s brother, who now lives in Oakland, said, “It seems like here you emphasize strategies for social support, but do you have ideas for medical reforms? Ways to address it?”
“There are several levels,” answered Dr. Foote. “One level is training medical providers. That requires buy-ins at med schools.”
“If you get family members educated, they know what questions to ask medical professionals,” said Dr. Wilkens.