Until a couple of days ago, I had never heard of Cory Monteith. Sadly, it was his tragic death that brought him to my attention. I am not a Glee fan, but our daughter? Now that is a completely different story. So when I asked her who Cory Monteith was, she looked at me as if I was a new arrival on planet Earth, and frankly, sometimes these days I think that I am.
From my limited acquaintance with Monteith and his work, I understand that he was a talented performer and greatly loved by the fans of the program. It is even more tragic in some ways that someone who seems to "have it all" has to die as a result of addiction.
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Of course Monteith was not the only victim of addiction. In the United States, alcohol is responsible for around 75,000 deaths per annum. There are 40,000 lethal drug overdoses with 17,000 due to illicit drugs. That is equivalent to losing the entire population of a town like Berkeley, California (population around 115,000) every year. And, since every addict's life affects at least 4 other people, that equates to a city the size of Albuquerque, New Mexico (population 550,000) being affected every year; one-fifth dead, the rest grieving.
We have all seen the sci-fi movies where crisis is averted: if these towns were to be infected, instead, by a deadly strain of virus, everything that could be mobilised in aid would be. The town would be quarantined, the president (undoubtedly Morgan Freeman) would bring in the best biologists and medics, the antidote would be found and everyone would be immunised before our popcorn ran out. Then we would all go home, having been a little bit scared but comfortable in the knowledge that with a bit of good old American knowhow and inventiveness, no problem is too big that we can’t overcome it.
So where is that spirit and gumption when it comes to addiction? Is the unacceptable loss of life through addiction any less of a national — even global — emergency? Surely we don’t think that these losses are acceptable. Therefore, should we not be bringing together our best brains so that we can start immunising our population against addiction? OK, you might say this is not Hollywood; this is real life and I could not agree more. This is real life, ask anyone who is involved in addiction. We need to acknowledge this problem and deal with it.
So how do we immunise a population against addiction? We tried prohibition and it didn’t work. We have been waging a global war on drugs and it isn’t working. This type of model, aimed at disrupting the supply of substances, tends to create more harm than it prevents. For a start, it creates business opportunities for criminals who will continue to meet the demand that people have for substances that take the edge off the pressures of life. And, perhaps paradoxically, the people who have the greatest pressure are the unemployed, the poor and the people who have little hope in their lives.
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If we are going to immunise society against addiction, we need to inject it with a powerful antivirus — and the most powerful antivirus of all is hope. It is hope that stops us from giving up when things get tough. It is hope that makes the difference between success and failure. It is hope that makes us strive and grow as people who want to build a better future for our children. Where there is no or little hope, people do not respect themselves or others and addiction tends to flourish. Keep reading...
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