The Globe coverage of the costs of opioid addiction — in lives lost, families disrupted, and societal pain — is stellar (“On the way to catastrophe, trailing a life of wrong turns,” Page A1, Feb. 23; “Opiates taking heavy toll on Cape,” Page A1, Feb. 22). But it must not lose sight of the critical component of hope.
Addiction treatment works. Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and other mutual help groups provide resources for many broken souls, allowing people to give back as well as be nourished in community. Medical treatment is effective; however, people who need and take methadone, buprenorphine, or naltrexone — which effectively block biological craving for opiates — face stigma and discrimination.
As a physician, I know that treatment is imperfect, providing relief more often than a cure. However, every addicted person who stays alive in my practice holds the promise of sobriety and recovery. When healing works, it is a miracle like remission from a near-fatal cancer.
If we are not to lose more people to addiction, we must share stories of success. It is harder to generate coverage of the ordinary heroism of ordinary folks struggling in ordinary time to overcome a terrible biological, sociologic, and spiritual burden. Despite imperfect understanding by brain scientists, treatment activists, and care providers, individuals get better. However, success in recovery is often hidden; people face loss of respect, authority, and dignity if they reveal their struggle with disease.
Stories of death and injury must be balanced by the real success of treatment if we are not to feed the hopelessness that is the driving engine of this disease.