Recovery Connections

John Schwary is CEO of Transitional Living Communities, an 850-bed recovery program he founded in Mesa, Arizona January 9, 1992, when he had a year sober. He's in his 29th year of recovery.

In these posts, he views life mostly through the lenses of recovery. While the blog is factual, he often disguises events and people to protect anonymity.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Helping Addicts?

Many years ago, the United States government recognized that disabled people should be treated as well as their healthy neighbors. So, many states followed their example and set up legal protections for the disabled.

Those with handicaps were provided legal protections and given the same opportunities to live where they wanted, working the jobs they wanted, and to be able to take advantage of all the benefits of those who were not handicapped.

Thus was born the Fair Housing Act in 1968, the Rehabilitation Act in 1973, and the Americans With Disabilities Act in 1990.

Out of these laws came such requirements as special parking places for those drivers who had handicaps, railings in bathrooms for those who had difficulty using the facilities, ramps that allowed the handicapped to access buildings in their wheelchairs and wider doorways that accommodated those wheelchairs.  Those Americans with disabilities were allowed to find housing that accommodated those disabilities. We were seemingly becoming an enlightened society that looked out for those who have difficulties doing ordinary everyday things that most of us take for granted. Even people who have trouble functioning because of a drug or alcohol addiction were provided protection under these laws.

But it seems like our society has a short memory. Because in the last couple of years the state of Arizona and various municipalities have passed laws to restrict the ability of alcoholics and drug addicts to receive services. New laws are now being put into effect, laws that have have been cobbled together by various lawyer types to protect the rest of the world from those who have the misfortune to have a drug or alcohol addiction – which is now recognized worldwide as a disease.

A law that I think is one of the more ridiculous examples of our government at work – is the one that requires recovery homes and halfway houses to be a certain distance from one another. Usually the distance is around 1500 feet, but today I saw a requirement that was 1320 feet. What in the world does the government expect to accomplish by making addicts live about a quarter-mile from one another?  I think if addicts have a real urge to visit or consort with one another all they have to do today is pick up the phone and call Uber, or walk to the nearest light rail station.

The government has also stuck its nose into how many people can live in a building. Now I agree that too many people living in a small space is not a good thing. But I think that in some cases this is a really arbitrary law – particularly when it comes to addicts and alcoholics. If one drives around downtown Phoenix they can see clumps of addicts and alcoholics almost living in a pile or in a dumpster behind Circle K, surrounded by shopping carts. Yet, when they decide they want to get clean and sober the government is very interested on how many of them are living in a house, using a toilet, using a kitchen, or even how many parking spaces they might occupy. Just in case anyone has noticed, no good self-respecting drug addict has an automobile to park or drive unless they stole it from someone else. Yet these kinds of concerns, worded in fancy, legal sounding language seems on the surface to have the best interest of alcoholics at heart. Yeah, right.

But the reality is, all the government is trying to do is to put up barriers to those who are trying to help addicts and alcoholics change the course of their lives. After all, they need to keep their consstituents happy,  The government spends little money helping addicts and alcoholics change their lives. But they love to spend a lot of money on legislating against those who are trying to provide services to them at no cost to the government. What we're going to see if the government prevails in enforcing these laws is more drug deaths than ever and more homelessness than ever

Last year some 900 people died in of Arizona from opioid overdoses. That number will no doubt rise as the addicts among us are denied services while the government pursues prohibitive laws to deny them healthcare. If we applied the same laws to those with cancer, heart disease, COPD, or emphysema, there would be an outcry that could be heard clear to California.  But somehow the attitude is different when one is dealing with addicts or alcoholics - beacause they are in some ways participants in their own problems.

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