Law can't repair opioid damages

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Both society and individuals must accept ownership of the problem.

A FEW DAYS AGO the Beloit Daily News published a two-day series of articles on what is described as the opioid epidemic. It was the latest in a long line of articles published to alert the public to the danger.

It's hardly just a local issue. All across America more and more people are becoming addicted and the number of individuals perishing from an overdose has soared.

Meanwhile, emergency medical services personnel are coping with skyrocketing calls for life-saving services. The overdose death figures would be much higher if not for the extraordinary work of first responders.

THE TOPIC HAS occupied attention at the highest levels. When the United States Senate debated so-called repeal-and-replace of Obamacare, part of the reason Republicans could not assemble the votes was concern at the state levels over whether there would be enough money to combat the opioid crisis. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell tried to sweeten the pot and buy reluctant votes by inserting a few billion dollars into special opioid funding. For some senators, who have heard or witnessed the horror stories, it wasn't enough.

Here in Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel has been a strong advocate for finding ways to make a difference. Among other things, he has pushed a statewide awareness campaign in hopes of lessening the availability of prescription opioids and educating the public about the dangers of misuse.

The legislature also has advanced certain efforts including widening the availability and possible use of Narcan, which can serve as an antidote in overdose cases. Other advocates across the country are pressing government for money to treat addictions and give individuals another chance at life.

THIS IS NOT an either-or proposition. There is no magic cure, any "ah-ha" moment when society arrives at just the right answer to fix the situation for everybody.

Yes, doctors shouldn't over-prescribe opioid painkillers. Law enforcement personnel should aggressively target dope pushers. First responders should be adequately trained, equipped and funded. Teachers and social workers and others should be able to administer life-saving aid. More and better treatment options should be available. Programs should support not only recovery for addicts, but help for families and care-givers.

And, yes, when it comes to international borders the United States should be tough about stopping the flow of illegal substances. Better interdiction, presumably, would mean fewer addicts on the streets.

BUT GET SERIOUS: Anyone who thinks such actions would erase America's drug problem is fooling themselves. These are coping mechanisms, ways to tamp down the consequences of aberrant human behavior.

For example: Why are drugs so easy to get? Simple supply and demand. Border drug smuggling would diminish overnight if demand on the American side dropped.

It is possible to become addicted to drugs through no fault of one's own. Over-prescribing painkillers to patients has caused a lot of strong opioids to slosh through society. There are unscrupulous doctors willing to hand it out. And there are profit motivations at drug manufacturers, too - the pharmaceuticals do not manufacture this stuff in hopes it won't get used.

Likewise, there are plenty of low-lifes out there wanting to line their own pockets off the miseries of addicts by hooking people on street drugs. Odd as it may sound, someone who kills in the heat of the moment deserves more sympathy than the dealer who preys on others' weaknesses to kill slowly with dope.

EVEN SO, THIS is inescapable: A lot of this is related to bad decisions and lack of personal discipline and responsibility.

Addiction can happen to anybody and any family, but rarely does it happen without a backstory of mistakes and bad options. Educating people to take responsibility for who they become must be part of any solution.

As a society, all too often, we have become a nation of excuse-makers. In situation after situation, people look for someone or something to tag with the blame. A lot of people get bad breaks and absorb hard knocks. But hard knocks do not have to result in a hard life.

Choices matter. Choices have consequences. That message cannot be drilled in enough, from early childhood forward.

No argument, by the way, society must do what it can - and what it can afford - to cope with the mounting toll of substance abuse. Concentrated efforts can help.

But don't dismiss the impact of bad decisions and lack of taking personal responsibility for life's ups and downs. Legislation won't fix it. That's the realm of hearts and minds, and people taking ownership of their lives.

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