If it is true that dollars drive decisions and the media shape attitudes on spending for public policy, we better all get off our couches, get involved, and mobilize to make sure policy makers understand how important it is to support youth and families in recovery.
Our family has suffered for years with generations of the disease of addiction. Two of our kids have made it; two have not. But when I was channel surfing last night, I saw enough images of “rehab” to know there’s no hope that anyone would fund youth and family recovery services, given the current public will and culture.
Sensationalistic depictions of addiction are sold by the media business to get ratings, the media impacts public opinion and government, and the government impacts recovery spending on our health prospects and the future.
If you like shock, shame and gore, then think of all the young people who will die because they can’t access recovery. As we watch Dr. Drew’s exploitation of the childhood trauma of addicts, or bikini-clad waitresses and bouncers serving yet more alcohol to violent blackout drinkers, our state and federal budget cutbacks are diminishing our treatment supports right under our noses.
We have created times when children's pain provides our entertainment. We follow stories of Chicago kids repeatedly bullied and killed, kids who take cell phone pictures of a young girl being gang raped, drug cartels killing youth at treatment centers, octo-moms and balloon kids.
You may ask, “What’s new? There's a lot in common with bullfighting and dog fighting, entertainments that date back as least as far as the Romans.”
While the smash, the crash and the blood have always entertained, it has created a “new normal.” Bombarding our youth, homes and policy makers with images of communities threatened by young adults and their addictions is catching up with us. More kids are dying from alcohol and drug addiction than ever before. As champions, our civic engagement, spirit and participation is needed, or we are like those kids standing back and watching the abuse.
Although the stories and data of youth and families reclaiming their lives in recovery can effectively demonstrate to policy makers that treatment and recovery support service spending works, those things rarely get prime time coverage.
For example, our nonprofit organization often gets calls from people who want us to tell our stories of addiction. Our youth and families get asked to speak at conferences, and invitations to tell their stories to policy makers or the media.
Too often, however, those extending the invitations prefer that we not talk about what life is like today in recovery, or about how treatment works. Instead, they want a stories about which drugs we took, how we took them, where we bought them: stories of fear, of addicted youth who broke the law, of cars flipped over and shocking pictures of our children who died from drugs.
We know that reforming alcohol or other drug treatment and recovery is always a tough sell, because it requires that people who have little power -- and who are generally discounted by the rest of society because of the nature of their problems – become advocates for themselves. But their voices have never been more important.
The current environment and stigma impacts voters and policy. Do we all really understand the impacts of health care reform issues? President Obama’s 2011 budget for the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) is getting shaped as we speak, and offers an opportunity to grow our youth- and family-driven, community-based treatment and recovery capacity. Do you know where the spending is being redirected?
Our victory with parity – prohibiting insurance companies from capping mental health or addiction treatment benefits differently from medical or surgical benefits -- is only as valuable as we make it. Our children with mental health and addiction health issues deserve public treatment options, just like our kids with cancer, diabetes and disabilities.
It is time for new images and messages! It is time to change the channel.
Donna Aligata is the Executive Director of Connecticut Turning To Youth and Families (CTYF) and a family member in recovery. She has completed brand new training materials specific to youth and family peer models for delivering recovery support. Donna and CTYF are passionate about training others to offer their own peer-to-peer recovery support programs in their communities. CTYF is happy to share what they have lived and learned and they are currently offering technical assistance for the cross-fertilization and replication of the support programs highlighted on their website.
- A&E's recent reality TV show, "Beyond Scared Straight," which aired in January 2011, purposely increases teens' contact with adult prison inmates in an attempt to terrify them into “going straight." Turns out doing nothing is actually more effective than this strategy. Check out these facts about the program from the Coalition for Juvenile Justice (CJJ).
Updated: February 08 2018