Chris Christie recently gave a speech at a town hall in New Hampshire asking Americans to stop judging addicts, stop putting them in jail and start giving them the tools they need to recover. He used three examples in his speech to illustrate the dangerous realities of addiction in this country. Coming from a pretty right-wing Republican from New Jersey, addressing this audience in New Hampshire, Governor Christie not only made it hit home, he hit it out of the park.
He began by talking about how his mother died of lung cancer. He made no bones about disclosing the fact that she got lung cancer because she smoked. He also made no bones about making it crystal clear that absolutely no one judged her for getting lung cancer because she smoked. No one told them NOT to get her chemo, or said she didn’t deserve treatment because she smoked. And you better believe, no one dared utter the words that this was, in any way, her fault.
I believe 80%, if not more, of our jails are filled with addicts or people incarcerated on drug-related charges. This is not the solution to America’s drug problem. We’re institutionalizing a lot of people instead of ‘rehabilitating’ them, which is the entire belief system behind the American prison system. We’re condemning this population to a life that is almost impossible to rebound from, often, simply just because someone who is active in their addiction or alcoholism made a bad decision, did something, or anything, illegal, and got caught. For the record, The American Medical Association deemed Alcoholism a disease in 1956 then in 1991 endorsed the dual classification of Alcoholism by the International Classification of Diseases under both psychiatric and medical sections. – Courtesy of the AMA.
There has been almost no legal policy change for a group of people who suffer from a disease that has been deemed an illness by the AMA for over 50 years. No comment. But by now, we all know what being caught in the American judicial system means—it’s not going to help you shoot forward in life. To the contrary, unless you have the kind of financial means to hire lawyers, very good lawyers, and pay for all kinds of other ‘prevention’ alternatives—think rehab or behavior modification programs, you’re pretty screwed. Bravo Gov. Christie for putting the spotlight on this issue, and then taking it here…
While I’m not going to throw Gov. Christie a pound for using a pro-life argument to defend addiction, his words on one situation were nothing short of moving. Gov. Christie started by saying, “I’m pro-life.” Then more importantly, went on to say, “For the 16 year-old girl on the floor of the county lock-up addicted to heroin, I’m pro-life for her too. Her life is just as much a precious gift from God as the one in the womb.” Well, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle because never did I think a pro-life argument would make my heart pound, in a good way, but he owned it. No teenage girl should ever be locked up for being an addict, and if that’s how he wants to prove it, fine.
Governor Christie’s third, and most clearly calculated, but crucially important example was a guy he knew from law school. He was one of his closest friends because they began school in a study group together, apparently a very bonding experience for law students. Gov. Christie’s friend was the graduate of an ivy-league school before attending law school. He became editor of the law review, landed a job at a great law firm after graduation, married a beautiful woman and had three gorgeous daughters. Gov. Christie told of the guy’s perfect career, marriage, nice cars, how he made partner first, and, he was even good looking. The bastard! Then, one day he went running and injured his back. He was in enough discomfort that they gave him Percocet for the pain. The perfect guy, with the perfect life and perfect body, hurt himself while exercising, and was given the perfect drug for pain.
That began a horror story descent into addiction. Gov. Christie told this story to prove a very important point–this can happen to anyone. An ivy-league lawyer with a great job, smoking hot wife and money in the bank is not exempt from becoming an addict. So a year goes by, and the wife of the hotshot friend calls Gov. Christie to ask that he and his friends have an intervention on her husband in order to get him to go to rehab. What? Yes, he’s become severely addicted to the pills and requires an intervention. Governor Christie said that intervention began a ten-year odyssey of this ‘ideal human man’ being in and out of rehab. He lost his home, lost his wife, then the ability to see his children, lost his license to practice law and driver’s license. Of course he went through all his money, retirement fund too, and the job was long gone. Then one day Governor Christie got the call anyone who has ever loved an addict prays never to get, but knows is always a possibility. His old, beloved friend was found dead in a hotel room with an empty quart of vodka and an empty bottle of Percocet. 52 years old. These were the words Christie followed that with:
“By every measure of success we have in this country he had he had everything… He’s a drug addict and he couldn’t get help and he’s dead… It can happen to anyone and so we need to start treating these people not jailing them. We need to start giving them the tools they need to recover because every life is precious and we have to stop judging and giving them the tools they need to get better.”
There it is, America. Many of us have said it before, but if Chris Christie has the platform to get it heard, go on with your bad self, Brigdegate! Let America know what jailing, institutionalizing, punishing and shaming does to addicts. Thank you, Governor Christie, for acknowledging that anyone can fall to addiction no matter class, creed or color, and that we need to get people suffering with alcoholism and addiction the help they need, not lock them away.
Treating sick people with disrespect and discrimination seems inconceivable, but it’s been going on forever. My hope for the coming election is that addiction and alcoholism take center stage and finally get the attention and funding these diseases need to change policy, treatment and public opinion.