Shertzer: Addicts can lie, cheat, steal … and feel

This is not my typical humorous, playfully sarcastic post. So if you are looking for humor, you might want to just keep clicking, because today, I got nothing. This is a post of a more serious nature. I apologize for the length, but it is something that needs to be said. 

Yesterday, I was in line at the grocery store and overheard two people, whom I presumed to be healthcare professionals, discussing someone who is a “frequent flyer” at their place of employment. The particular individual they were discussing is someone who is actively addicted and was “drug seeking.” They expressed their disdain of “junkies” and said that we should just supply drug addicts with enough drugs and needles to “do the job right.”

Tales of a mountain nurse by Daniell Mickey Shertzer

Tales of a mountain nurse
by Daniell Mickey Shertzer

Inarguably, patients in active addiction are one of the most challenging patient populations to work with. They can be demanding, conniving, difficult, and manipulative. And that’s on a good day. Addicts wreak havoc on everyone around them, testing the patience and trust boundaries of those who love them the most.

They can be hurtful, lie, cheat, steal, but I assure you, they still feel. I can also assure you that nothing you say about or call an addict is any worse than what they have already said to themselves. They are lost, scared, and broken souls who have descended deeply into a dark, dismal abyss that there seems to be no way out of and are being crushed by the weight of the hopelessness of their addiction.

Although they can do bad things (almost all of which revolve around perpetuating their addiction), they are not bad people. They are sick people, and regardless of what your opinion is about addiction, it is recognized by the medical community as a disease and should be treated as such.

Although they can certainly be frustrating, addicts are still someone’s child, sibling, parent, spouse, friend, et cetera, are no less worthy of our kindness and compassion than any other sick patient who presents to our care, and deserve to be treated with the same amount of dignity and respect. I have stood by a mother as her son who overdosed on heroin was declared brain dead and removed from life support. Her grief was no less palpable because his death was a result of his addiction than if he had died under any other circumstance. From the standpoint of a healthcare professional, our job is not to judge, but rather to care, advocate for them, and direct them to the resources they need to hopefully rebuild their lives.

Understandably, addiction angers people; and it should. It is a pervasive, horrific disease that does not discriminate. Whether you come from “jail or Yale, park bench or Park Place”, no one is immune. It robs families of joy, leaving a path of destruction and devastation in its wake, affecting every single person in the addict’s life. BUT, it is also very important to acknowledge that recovery is possible. Addicts can go from dying to amazing; better than you ever thought they could be. They are everywhere: our teachers, doctors, lawyers, nurses, bus drivers, CEOs, and neighbors, just to name a few, living sober, bright, happy, productive lives, full of love and laughter. They are not expendable.

So instead of despising a patient population, why don’t we redirect our energy to bringing awareness to the disease, understanding the disease process, and reducing the social stigma associated with addiction, so we can better serve the needs of this patient population? After all, you might just be the one person who is able to reach deep enough into someone’s soul and help propel them to a life changing path of recovery. And that, my friends, is when we see miracles happen.

Stepping off of soapbox now.

Daniell Mickey Shertzer is a nurse, a wife and mother of two children who lives in a small town just like yours.

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