It’s easy to poke fun at a community that is invisible. We saw the backlash after the opioid induced constipation ad aired bowl during Super 50. The chronic disease community became the punchline for comedians and also an easy way for politicians to score quick political points.
There is no doubt that this country is struggling with drug addiction and abuse. This is an issue we must take seriously, and I believe we can by including all stakeholders in the discussion.
It is interesting to me that the public and the politicians’ outrage (and government response) came when addiction reached into white and affluent suburbia. There was no public outrage when people where dying in the streets in inner cities. In those communities, there was no call for rehabilitation, in fact it seems the opposite happened – increased incarceration and law enforcement.
We have to ask ourselves: what are the intentions of politicians who are championing this cause? On a deep level, I think their intentions are good. Who wants young people to suffer with drug addiction, a road that we see can lead to tragic death? Where I think politicians fail is by looking at the issue from one perspective. Let’s be real, it’s easy for political leaders to see one perspective because that creates less of a burden to explain the many sides of an issue and truly inform people. In the age of twitter attention spans our leaders learn to communicate in short terse sound bites. Think of what we hear from most Presidential candidates.
But what gets lost? When dealing with a policy issue that impacts so many, I feel our politicians should be more accountable to the community of folks who live with a chronic disease. A more impactful approach would be for politicians to acknowledge the chronic community, tailor policies that include their voices and at the very least affirm the existence of citizens battling everyday for a semblance of a good quality of life.
Instead we have well-intentioned governors like Governor Shumlin of Vermont, attacking an ad that was aimed at educating and raising awareness about a legitimate side effect, and comedians like Bill Maher essentially calling chronic pain patient ‘junkies’.
We can change the discussion but it will take work. It’s important to increase visibility and create a dialogue around these very real issues. It is much harder for politicians and others to attack a group that they see engaged, proactive and ready to roll up their sleeves to affect change.
Check out our advocacy group www.50StateNetwork.org to become involved. Together we are stronger.