[Baltimore Sun] Substance abuse disorder is not mere laziness | READER COMMENTARY

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The recent commentary by Jeffrey A. Schaler and Richard E. Vatz, “Hunter Biden is guilty, but he wasn’t addicted” (June 11), is strong on dogmatism, short on empathy, and devoid of any balanced arguments about substance use disorder.

For more than a decade, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) in the National Institutes of Health has produced a strong case that substance use disorder is a bona fide brain disease and not simply a matter of the drug user’s laziness and neglect by not quitting. These are echoes of “Just say no.”

Rather, NIDA asserts “addiction is a chronic disease characterized by drug seeking and use that is compulsive or difficult to control, despite harmful consequences.”  In 2021, the journal Neuropsychopharmacology published that the foundational premise that addiction has a neurological basis is fundamentally sound.

Let me jump into the real world of helping and working with people immersed in substance use disorder. I work as a certified peer recovery specialist at Voices of Hope in Aberdeen and previously worked in Harford County’s four drug courts.

My colleagues and I help individuals whose brains have been hijacked by powerful drugs like fentanyl, xylazine and multiple drugs compressed into counterfeit prescription pills. Schaler and Vatz portray scenes that these drug users should just quit using because, well, it’s as easy as deciding if you want cookies for dessert.

It’s not. The drugs have hijacked the user’s brain. Cravings and the fear of withdrawal overpower normal thinking.

From my drug court days, I remember a women in her mid-30s, in shackles and prison garb, telling the judge, “Your Honor, I love my children and I love and miss my husband and family.  But if someone laid out some lines of heroin and asked me to choose, I’d have to choose the drug.”

Her confession stands in stark contrast to the simple solutions offered by Schaler and Vatz to address a complex problem.

— Don Mathis, Havre de Grace

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