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State of Alarm

4:05 PM, Jan 9, 2014 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
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But this, really, is not a very productive a line of thought or argument. The best argument for the disease metaphor is that it takes the stigma off addiction and makes understanding and treatment possible and effective.  By now, the addict is no longer stigmatized in our culture and, indeed, far from it.  The world of entertainment has made role models out of some addicts.

Again, still …

Governor Shumlin did not talk of sin or, even, individual weakness and failure in his speech. Nor, probably, should he have.  He stuck to what government can and should do. Treatment. Education. Enforcement. But it might be good for the state of Vermont if it were to recognize, as it comes to grips with the heroin problem, the work and the lasting achievement of Bill Wilson, a Vermonter and the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous.  No program of any kind has done more to help and redeem addicts. And AA is decidedly not a value-free way of thinking.  

When I was researching my article on heroin in Vermont, I sat in on several meetings of professionals who were working with addicts in a rehab program. During one of those meetings, one of the women at the table looked at me and said, “Do you know what the real problem here is?”

“No,” I said, expecting to hear something about insufficient funding or lack of understanding.

“We’re enabling these people,” she said.  Then she went on, with help from others around the table, to list some of the state and federal programs that are available to the addicts she deals with.

Many of those programs are the spawn of the “War on Poverty.” It is too easy to say that the welfare state is the cause of the addiction explosion. Just as it is too easy to say that people mainline heroin because they have a disease and consider the matter settled. 

It is an evasion to say that there is no component of self-reliance and personal responsibility in the mix. And it is legitimate to wonder if the War on Poverty and the many programs that followed from it might not – to continue with the disease metaphor – have lowered many vulnerable people’s resistance to the disease of addiction.

Because what has happened to Vermont didn’t just happen.

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