Earlier this month, the United States Surgeon General issued a report declaring substance use disorders, like addiction, the “most pressing public health crises of our time.” The report called the country to action to both help those struggling with the chronic illness of addiction and change how addiction in the U.S. is perceived as a “criminal justice problem” rather than the public health problem that it is.
Fordham University Center for Ethics Education HIV and Drug Abuse Prevention Research Ethics Training Institute (RETI) Fellow Dr. Erin Bonar, an assistant professor and researcher at the University of Michigan, recently addressed addiction in a panel along with the U.S. Surgeon General on NPR titled, “How To Spot — And Treat — Addiction In Your Family.”
“Many people still believe that addition is a moral failing or a sign of weakness, but decades of research as summarized in the surgeon general’s report support the notion that this is medical condition brought about by a number of factors, including genetics and environmental influences,” Bonar explained.
Addiction “requires ongoing management” and family members and other individuals helping with treatment must approach addicts with “concern and compassion, not confrontation,” she said. In addition to the illness itself, individuals addicted to substances face emotions such as shame accompanied by worries of stigmatization from their families and communities. Interventions vary depending on the type of drug and level of addiction, but Bonar added that being “open and supportive” typically result in successful interventions as addicts will be more likely to express feelings about their addiction and associated issues.
“There is hope,” Bonar continued, “there are very good treatments available for helping manage substance use disorders and people can recover.” Gaps in treatment for individuals addicted to substances can be made smaller if family doctors, emergency departments workers and other health care providers have can both identify addiction and appropriately “link” individuals with services or treatment.
As a result of her training and research as a RETI fellow, Dr. Bonar has incorporated her ability to identify ethical issues as applied to addiction treatment. “Individuals who suffer from substance use disorders are a ‘vulnerable population’ and we have to consider their unique situations when implementing ethical protections in our research. For example, although privacy and confidentiality are always important concerns, there is extra emphasis on these protections when working with individuals who use illegal substances,” Bonar said.
Please click here for more information on the Fordham University HIV Prevention Research Ethics Training Institute (RETI).
Listen to the panel here: How To Spot — And Treat — Addiction In Your Family.
Rimah Jaber, MA, Senior Editor of Ethics and Society blog