Give Those With Mental Health Issues and Addiction Problems a Break; Elect Democrats!



We’re almost over the first wave of mourning the loss of Philip Seymour Hoffman. He was found dead in his Greenwich Village rental apartment with a syringe in his arm and an envelope of apparent heroin by his side. Police subsequently found over 300 such envelopes or “bags” of the stuff at Hoffman’s place of residence.

At 46, and with an incalculable acting range, Hoffman should have been at the pinnacle of his thespian powers. In fact he was. He was also at the pinnacle of mental and emotional disintegration that much of this society chooses to address with little more than the absurd “just say no” bromide. In spite of the fact he repeatedly told friends he was headed for the final curtain because of drugs, little was apparently done. The suspected OD may have been driven by his recent estrangement from his long-time partner and mother of his children, Mimi O’Donnell.

Oh, there was rehab all right. Hoffman supposedly had a relatively recent 10-day stint in May of last year. For the glitterati, such stays are often at bodacious, expensive, multi-columned, resort-like mini-palaces that can suck up 5 and 6 digits worth of cash over time and leave you drug and alcohol-free for maybe six months or six weeks or even six days before you return to your old needles and cocktails of brain-altering booze, narcotics and legally prescribed pharmaceuticals. Hoffman had actually been ‘clean’ for some 23 years, but a stressful event, such as the leave-taking of his long-time girlfriend, can trigger the resumption of drugs and alcohol overnight. Ironically, Hoffman’s death has elicited a promise from fellow May rehabbers to swear off the bad stuff forever.

Some have come up with an alternate solution to rehab. Send those horrible addled, drugged up people to prison. The poor ones that is. And, once there, if they don’t walk the line, send them to Ad Seg (Administrative Segregation, solitary confinement, “the hole”). Lock ’em away in a one-man spare, 8 X 10′ max, cement cell with a bunk, a toilet, a sink and almost total solitude. When finally released from solitaire to a two-man cell or dorm, don’t forget to keep that horrible person in the joint for years and years and years to come.

A high percentage of these ad seg inmates don’t belong there or in prison. They belong in meaningful, sympathetic programs run by “bleeding heart” progressives, because, frankly, right-wing conservatives don’t give the least little damn about these people.

If you get a chance, read the wonderfully thoughtful column by comedienne Pam Stone entitled, “Addicts need our kindness, not scorn.” So are addicts getting our kindness? Kindness in this application is a term I would interpret as adequate treatment centers to make you well, or at the very least, able to cope with your addiction by including such programs as 24/7 help-lines and increased funding to attack this problem head on. Instead, we send the economically-challenged addicts and many of those troubled mentally, off to be abused and made worse in the nearest slammer, a destination almost as bad as a crack house.

Another worthwhile read on the subject is the Huff Post 7/2/12 Deni Carise blog on the addiction and recovery portion of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA). The authors of this plan possess a deep understanding of the drug and mental illness problem from every perspective and these problems are well addressed in ACA.

The reaction of the extremist House of Representatives? At last count, drawing from the Tea Party template, Republican reps have voted 46 times to repeal ACA. In South Carolina, the state barely acknowledges the existence of the marketplace exchange for people wishing to purchase ACA insurance.

A little over a year ago, South Carolina cut mental health funding, that included addiction issues, by 39%. In her 2014 utterances, Governor Nikki Haley, facing a tough re-election race, is suddenly expressing great concern for the addicted and mentally ill. In truth, states like South Carolina and their red state partners are always at the head of the line when it comes to telling poor addicts and those with mental health issues to go to hell or, more specifically, prison.

According to the DOJ’s Bureau of Justice statistics, those with mental and addiction problems were more likely to serve multiple prison terms than those free of such burdens. Using the universally accepted Diagnostic and Statistical Manuel of Mental Disorders, fourth edition, to define a mental disorder, women inmates far outnumber men in this department, with 73% of women and 55% of men meeting the DSM-IV criteria.

And yes, drug abuse and dependence are mental disorders as defined by DSM.

Other disorders found in prison populations range from major depressive or mania symptoms to delusions and hallucinations to whatever leads 13% of mentally troubled inmates to attempt suicide. Many of these conditions lead to the ever-present specter of fights and murders within prison walls.

If I had my druthers, most inmates included in the above categories would be released immediately to residential and halfway house treatment programs funded by the feds and states. Once completely returned to society under the continued care of a mental health professional, follow-up extended release treatment would be mandatory until the individual was pronounced cured. And some of these conditions can be cured. For those that can’t, it’s our obligation to our fellow citizens to provide outpatient care for life. Yes, it’s a little extra work, maybe some additional money, but such “sacrifices” are your entry fee to join the human race.

Before you start grousing about the cost, however, the expense of treatment is way down my list of concerns. As I’ve written many times, the money is always there for a new FedEx, Amazon or name the global manufacturing facility, be it a few thousand or well over a billion. The money is always there! The money saved in incarceration expenditures, endless jail time and freebie lawyers as expressed midway through the reading of Miranda Rights: “You have a right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you”, evens the playing field. Not that money isn’t a consideration. Public Defenders are often underpaid, but paid nonetheless. They’re overwhelmed and no matter the skill level, cannot possibly provide the quality of work that a rich defendant can afford from a major law firm with bunches of crack criminal defense specialists. Expensive, to be sure, but they’ll keep you out of prison or shave a decade or so off your sentence.

Then there’s the matter of packed court dockets. Crime, jails, prisons, judges and the justice system cost taxpayers scads of moola. Translation; a well thought-out program to care for the needs of those who are clogging up our jails and prisons makes a ton of sense and yet, in many red states, the only approach is to lock these already ill people up for ever-increasing sentences.

Let our Democratic candidates run on a platform of both mercy and pocketbook practicality. The issue is out there for the taking and the national and state voting records of the Tea Party-type legislators have no rebuttal for the truth about the current system.

Dennis S

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