Friday, March 27, 2020

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Epidemic Panic - ME/them

I recently read two articles in Vox by senior correspondent German Lopez.  One, co-authored with Julia Belluz, titled “Wash You Damn Hands,, is a measured, 
sensible, and practical guide for individuals on responding to the Covid-19 virus outbreak. The other is one of an important series Lopez is working on - “The Rehab Racket: Investigating the high cost of addiction care”.  Each an article on an epidemic.

Hand washing is prompted by a response to the most recent health scare, the Covid-19 virus.  Since December the news has abounded with stories about the Covid-19 virus.  Just as Zika, MERS, SARS, and Ebola – to name a few – have clamored for our attention in years past via all media available.  The collective anxiety over the threat of catching one of these headline grabbing diseases, much less dying from one, is palpable. The stock market stumbles and tumbles.  Congress quickly approves billions of dollars for research and prevention measures. Yet, counter to the panic surrounding these diseases, a March NBC News report lists the combined death toll for Covid-19, SARS, and MERS at just under 5,000 deaths.  

Meanwhile, German Lopez continues to write regularly about a far more devastating epidemic, Substance Use Disorder, SUD. There are few headlines, unless a celebrity dies.  As I write, today like every day, 185 Americans will die from drug overdoses.  In four weeks’ time overdose deaths will surpass the 5,000 viral deaths.  Annual death rates for SUD have climbed from 47,000 in 2014 to 72,000 in 1917.  The first step backward came in 2018 at 68,000.  Given the stigma around SUD those deaths are most likely significantly underreported. 

Why the disparity in our collective consciousness and reporting in the media between the two epidemics?  I believe the answer is simple. When we learn about a virus, we immediately don a mask, literally or figuratively or both, out of fear that the disease could strike us. The thought is, “I could catch this.  It could kill ME!”

SUD, on the other hand, while far more prevalent, is something that strikes “the other”, THEM. People we accuse of making bad choices. People we think of as bad people.  People we isolate in a sort of permanent quarantine, to be shunned and blamed for their misfortune.  Viral killers like Covid-19 fall under our control when we talk about them and actively confront them. SUD’s stalk us in the dark of willful ignorance, while we wash our hands of the plight of those suffering the disease.       

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Sometimes Letters to the Editor Don't Get Published - Part 2

Addiction, One Book at a Time by Alex Williams

Alex Williams serves us all by sharing information about books on addiction. Unfortunately, he employs outdated memes that perpetuate the stigma around Substance Use Disorder (SUD).

Discussions about SUD in its various guises often include conviction about “Rock Bottom”. The notion being that sooner or later the afflicted have to experience a life-altering event that shocks them into lasting change. Our family, too, heard this notion from multiple sources while our son, William, struggled with his use of heroin and we struggled to cope and understand.

The problem is this. The rocks at the bottom are strewn with dead bodies, including that of my son. Death is rock bottom. Anything else is just a serendipitous, albeit uncomfortable, landing on an outcropping on the way down. It may be a tough climb back. There may be other falls. But it’s not death.

People climbing back were never “dirty”.  The use of the antonym “clean” suggests otherwise and cheats these authors among a legion of others of the value of their hard work and ultimate success in achieving sobriety and sustained recovery. 

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Sometimes Letters to the Editor Don't Get Published

The New York Times offered readers the opportunity to write a letter about a book that changed their life in 200 words or less. I submitted a letter that wasn't published. I offer it here:
Our son and brother, William, died at age 24 following an accidental heroin overdose. At his memorial service, we made the following pledge to him: “We promise to do everything in our power to educate and inform people about drug abuse and its prevention, to provide ever more enlightened treatment for addicts, to help make treatment options for addicts more readily available, and to remove the stain of shame surrounding this disease.” So began a sustained advocacy for substance use disorder (SUD) sufferers.
Shortly thereafter I read Andrew Solomon’s Far From The Tree. For me, the brilliance of his writing is distilled in these few words: “…we all have our darkness, and the trick is making something exalted of it.” Words that inspired me at first encounter and guide me as I seek to listen, learn, write and speak about SUD; as I labor to honor my pledge.
Unlike the conditions Solomon writes about, SUD is often not far from the tree. Rather, it lurks persistently in the roots and branches of many family trees. Solomon’s book doesn’t address SUD directly, but he writes eloquently about shame and stigma. His wisdom thereon motivates and shepherds my quest toward the exalted.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Courtney Hunter on "First Mondays With Bill Williams"

Take half an hour to listen to my interview with Courtney Hunter of The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids.  It aired January 6th on Radio Catskill, WJFF 90.5 on my show "First Mondays With Bill Williams." You can catch the show on the first Monday of every month at 7:00 on 90.5 or via the internet at  Go here to listen to my conversation with Courtney: