On March 21, I provided the following testimony before the NJ Assembly Budget Committee.
I’m a mother and an NCADD advocacy leader. For me, “recovery” means holding onto the hope that my son will outlive his addiction. With God’s grace, he will turn 20 in a matter of weeks and today, has 6 months and 1 week without alcohol or drugs, proving that recovery is real.
My horror began 4-years ago; he was 16. We know that people suffering from addiction are stigmatized, but so are the parents. At the time, friends that associated with me – those not afraid of catching what I carried – reassured me that I was doing the “right thing” by getting him help early. But, they were few and far between.
Most parents avoided me in public. I now know that it wasn’t because they didn’t know what to say, but more often because I mirrored a reflection of themself; the self they didn’t want to see because their truth was that my son was hanging out with their son or daughter. As a form of self-protection, they needed to believe that I over-reacted by pulling my kid out of private school and sending him to wilderness therapy. After all, it was only alcohol and marijuana; boys will be boys; it was a phase.
My son’s “phase” outlasted 14-months of the forced sobriety – a.k.a. treatment – and spanned the miles from New Jersey to Utah, and back again, at an astronomical financial cost, and an opportunity cost of a family. He was back home only a few weeks before the first ticket was issued; passenger in a parked car; marijuana possession; paraphernalia. Before long, he was placed on juvenile probation; more treatment. Despite it all, at 19, he was ticketed; this time, driver of the vehicle; DUI; arrested on felony possession of heroin.
Until that point, he had no “skin in the game.” He was young, immature, fearless. Only after his arrest and near heroin overdose on two separate occasions was he truly scared. His “friends” left him for dead on both occasions. His last 6 months have been spent in non-private residential treatment. Last week he entered an Oxford House. I have hope.
The problem – for this talented, intelligent, likeable kid – has been that addiction is a disease; not a phase. We know drug use for young people, especially with prescription drugs and heroin, is a serious situation. Two of the kids whose parents snubbed me years ago, today, mourn the loss of their own children. My way of handling the disease wasn’t better than theirs; I know that I’ve been lucky. Too many families have lost loved ones due to drug and alcohol use.
The disease of addiction doesn’t discriminate across socio-economic lines. It doesn’t have a cure but can be treated and young people like my son can find recovery if resources are provided. It can’t be loved away. Punishment, shaming and stigmatizing won’t improve low self-esteem, anxiety, or depression that all-to-often lead to the drugs and alcohol in the first place. We have to do better.
Addiction is a mental health disease that robs our communities of time, talent and treasure. I ask that the $2M be allocated to re-open Mid-State Correctional Center as a dedicated treatment facility to help inmates focus on re-entry and maintain their recovery. Treat addiction like a health issue as opposed to a criminal act because hope leads to recovery and recovery is real.