Writing in USA Today, former presidential nominee George McGovern retold the tragic story of his daughter, Terry, who became hooked on alcohol and dope as a teen, struggled with depression for decades, was locked in a psychiatric ward, seemed to recover, but finally froze to death in an alcoholic stupor on a Wisconsin parking lot in 1994.
McGovern pleaded with Americans to realize that addiction is a terrible disease -- not a "sin" -- that costs America a painful price.
"Addiction remains one of our nation's most stubborn public health challenges," he wrote. "In 2010, 22 million Americans ages 12 and older were classified with substance dependence or abuse, a number that has remained stable since 2002. Very few get help. Among people needing treatment, nearly 90 percent did not receive it in the past year."
The National Institute on Drug Abuse says:
"Abuse and addiction to alcohol, nicotine and illegal substances cost Americans upward of half a trillion dollars a year, considering their combined medical, economic, criminal and social impact. Every year, abuse of illicit drugs and alcohol contributes to the death of more than 100,000 Americans, while tobacco is linked to an estimated 440,000 deaths per year."
The federal institute relates how addicted teens often fail at school, suffer unwed pregnancy and sink into poverty. Their babies often are born premature, underweight and vulnerable to deficiencies. Addiction inflicts horrible damage on this nation. The institute says:
"When science began to study addictive behavior in the 1930s, people addicted to drugs were thought to be morally flawed and lacking in willpower. Those views shaped society's responses to drug abuse, treating it as a moral failing rather than a health problem, which led to an emphasis on punitive rather than preventive and therapeutic actions. Today, thanks to science, our views and our responses to drug abuse have changed dramatically.... We know that addiction is a disease that affects both brain and behavior."
Think how many U.S. families are damaged by this curse. Think of the enormous economic gain America would enjoy if victims led productive lives, and police didn't spend millions of hours nabbing addicts. It's a sad waste of human potential for so many to sink into meth labs, crack cocaine, pill-popping, glue-sniffing, chain-smoking, binge drinking and other self-destructive compulsions. Addiction takes over their lives and wrecks them.
To whatever degree possible, West Virginia and national leaders should support treatment programs designed to rescue addiction victims.