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Don’t blame parents of opioid - and other drug overdoses

The stories of “Lost Lives: Faces of an Epidemic” in Sunday’s paper were heartrending. They depicted chefs, businessmen, musicians, artists and college students whose deaths from opioid overdoses left survivors grappling with the unfair stereotype of having “failed” a troubled loved one.

Now imagine being a parent dealing with the same issues – but having the challenges compounded by poverty, crime, lousy schools, disinvestment and unemployment that leave your child feeling there’s no way out.

That’s what inner city parents face as they try to snatch back their children from the snares of a drug life too many turn to because they see little else to grasp. Yet their whole neighborhood gets stigmatized as composed of “bad” parents who care little for their children or are too lazy or uninterested to try to steer them in the right direction.

As the loved ones of those taken by the opiate crisis – mostly white – try to raise awareness and dispel the myth that the families were somehow negligent, perhaps their efforts will have the trickle-down effect of changing how we look at all families caught up in the addiction crisis.

While these grieving loved ones are ready to go public to change attitudes about the heroin and opiate epidemic – as evidenced by their candlelight memorial last weekend – other families are still secretive about what they are dealing with and end up trying to cope alone.

“It’s the persona that your family is nothing but crackheads,” said Murray Holman, explaining why many African-American families in the city’s most troubled neighborhoods are loath to speak out when a loved is grappling with addiction.

Holman is executive director of the Stop the Violence Coalition, which is in the streets working to combat drugs and violence and steer young people to alternatives. Now that others are dying and there’s a growing recognition of addiction as a medical issue, he said more blacks are “coming out of the closet” as well. As they try to grasp this new crisis, he pointed to the need for more neighborhood clinics.

“We don’t know how we’re going to get the resources and support to help us,” he said of inner city families. “They need more help. They need more resources coming to them. They don’t need to (have others) labeling them.”

Yet many of these mothers and fathers are cavalierly branded as lousy parents whose children just hung out on street corners and had no future anyway. It’s a convenient label that ignores the reality of addiction, especially when it plays out among those who see little else as an alternative.

But just as the overdose crisis evolved from a law enforcement issue to a treatment issue when it started taking white lives, maybe there will be a collateral benefit if the parents of opiate abusers can succeed in changing how we view the people who loved them and no doubt tried to help them.

As one mother who lost two sons poignantly put it in Sunday’s story: “People look at you like you are a terrible parent, but don’t you think we judge ourselves? People need to be understanding. Nobody knows how much we loved our kids.”

That’s something an enlightened society should find a way to grasp, no matter what race the abusers are or which drug claimed them.


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