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For the greatest improvement in society, find a cure for addiction

August 19, 2007|By TIM ROWLAND

When partying Paris Hilton wound up in the slammer she found Jesus - under a cot, probably - and announced to Barbara Walters via cell phone that, upon her release, she would dedicate her life to helping the children.

Lindsay Lohan, the "Tinseltown Trainwreck," has yet to arrive at a similar epiphany, but it's coming, no doubt. Three rehabs in a year will do that to you.

The children are always a default refuge for disgraced, drunken celebrities, but cancer patients, the environment, world hunger and AIDS victims are in the mix, too. Anything to show that the indisposed star cares about humanity - at least until the next bender.

But since celebrities love causes so much, they ought to consider this one: addiction.

Millions on millions of dollars are raised annually to fund research for a cure for cancer and AIDS, and properly so. But when was the last time you recall a walk-a-thon to find a cure for alcoholism? When was the last time anyone bothered to sew drug addicts a quilt?

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Cancer and AIDS activists have done an excellent job for mankind, raising money and awareness. Addictions activists, if there are any, not so much.

Yet it is arguable - if not an out-and-out certainty - that nothing would have a more profound, positive effect on society as a cure for addiction. Everything from cigarettes to smack.

Alcohol abuse alone is blamed by the U.S. Department of Justice for 40 percent of the nation's violent crime. Three out of four cases of spousal abuse, same thing. And 32 percent of fatal car wrecks. Half of trauma-room patients.

Needless to say, the costs are astronomical.

No one who has read The Herald-Mail series by Erin Julius and Karen Hannah on the state prisons cannot be taken with the cost of housing inmates - $160 million in Washington County's complex alone.

Multiply that by all the prisons across the country and then figure that nearly 40 percent of the felons were drinking when they committed the crimes, and you begin to get the picture.

And drug addiction is a whole 'nother ball of wax. The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates the cost of drug addiction to the nation is $181 billion in hospital visits, lost productivity and police resources.

But statistics are cold and incomplete. Literally millions of people - and not just the addicts - live lives in silent misery. Where openness, nurture, medicine and prayer are called for, addiction is hidden under the rug of dark, secret embarrassment. Instead of a medical answer, there is only anger, despair and hopelessness. Statistics can in no way account for the emotional anguish and communal pain that extends its tentacles into all walks of life.

Disease rocks a family; addiction rocks society. It ruins marriages, scars children, stunts productivity in the workplace and fills prisons.

Yet there is no medical, full-court press against addiction. No fundraisers. No glory for scientists working on a cure. We acknowledge that addiction is a disease, but we still treat it like a character flaw.

What person who catches bronchitis runs out and joins a support group?

Certainly there are a number people who are able to maintain an edgy sobriety through the programs we have available today.

But as our friend Lindsay could tell you, today's "treatments" don't work for the majority. We don't expect "one day at a time" to work for cancer and we shouldn't expect it to work for addiction.

It's not the company line, but it needs to be said that addiction treatment today more closely resembles superstition and brainwashing than it does modern medicine. We try to teach sobriety like you would teach a dog to shake hands - through repetition and giving him a cookie.

As we get to know more about the brain, we are learning more about the centers that spawn addiction. If we know why, then it stands to reason that a full-court medical press could determine how it can be treated.

The Herald-Mail's prison series clearly demonstrated that lawmakers' "solution" of putting everyone with a medical, addiction problem behind bars has backfired enormously. It's inhumane. It's a defacto way to forcing people into gang membership. It's tremendously expensive. It takes sick people and manufacturers them into animals.

A cure for addiction will not prevent a man from becoming liquored up and shooting someone outside a bar. But for the majority of offenders, drug and alcohol use is not a one-time occurrence.

Addiction fosters desperation. It's what causes a good person to reach for a gun or steal from his employer in order to pay for a drug purchase. It's what causes a good person who has just polished off a 12-pack to get in the car to go to the liquor store for another. It's what causes a good person to become a bad person, wrecking his own life and the lives of everyone he touches.

If any "new" disease were to come along and cause such widespread mayhem, it would be the subject of endless news reports in TV and would have a multitude of doctors working around the clock for a cure.

A tainted hamburger that kills two people will make national headlines and mobilize an army of health officials. Hundreds die from addictions every single day and, unless it's a celebrity, no one says a word.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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