One homeless man murdered another last weekend here in my area. I live about a mile from a black hole of addiction, allowed by the city government. Scores of addicts and homeless people congregate at the corner of Melnea Cass Boulevard and Massachusetts Avenue here in Boston. It is a no-go area for wise pedestrians and an inconvenience for the many drivers who pass through there on their way to and from two of Boston's largest medical centers. How ironic.
There is a shelter up the street from this urban blight. The distance between is called "Heroin Mile", due to the traffic of addicts and dealers. Heroin Mile is actually half of Heroin Two-Mile. The traffic of addicts and dealers extends beyond the shelter to the city housing projects beyond Andrew Square in South Boston. Dozing-and-stumbling pregnant women and women with baby carriages join in the daily zombie parade. These aren't the cute and witty zombies of iZombie on TV. And their children will most likely not have very functional lives ahead of them.
I read a neighborhood news site. It has a crime report section. The reaction to addiction-related crimes usually runs in the vein of "How sad." How sad, indeed. How sad that the commentator thinks that people living somnambulant lives on our streets is "sad", not absolutely shameful and outrageous in a rich country like the U.S.. "How convenient" is more like it.
Americans have chosen to tolerate beggars on our sidewalks and traffic intersections rather than funding strong mental health and detoxification services. Reagan's libertarian individualism was the preface to today's everyone-for-themselves concept of civic responsibility. How many media stories have you heard about former addicts and former felons becoming stellar citizens in corporate America? Too many of these false representations of the real deal are foisted on media consumers to rationalize leaving people to wallow and drown in their own dysfunction.
"You can't save someone from himself." This is the current wisdom that is used to rationalize a gutted and corrupted public health sector. "Addicts have civil rights." This screwed-up rationalization has led to public policy under which overdosed (dead) addicts must be revived with Narcan by police, firemen and EMS personnel but cannot be sent to a hospital for addiction treatment if they refuse when they wake up. So, our public policy, devised by politicians and lawyers, dictates enabling of heroin addicts by eliminating the risk of premature death by overdose. Is that responsible to the addict or to society? I say it is responsible to neither.
Public denial of the poisoning of our urban environment by addiction and alcoholism is epidemic.
One local business executive said, “While ... it is difficult every day to watch people with addiction and in the throes of homelessness and not to be able to do anything about it, it is rare that these issues affect the safety and security of the 28,000 people that work in this area.” She said this after a man was shot in the face in the middle of the day in that district of Boston where addicts and homeless people camp out all day.
Businesses which cater to alcoholism have accumulated great political power. Microbreweries have managed to become chic. Pubs, dressed up like quaint British or Irish establishments, have added a new veneer to the neighborhood bar where the increasing number of local alcoholics convene nightly. Entertainment media celebrate drunkenness routinely because they profit from product placement, as they still do from the cigarette industry.
Public policy which enforces denial of addiction as a core problem in society is irresponsible. Our collusion with that policy as citizens is also irresponsible. Alcoholism and drug addiction are not just a phase that people put aside magically on their own. Medical research for decades has proven this. Addiction is a lifelong chronic disease which requires conscious management and support. When the medical establishment and sober citizens yield to bad decisions by politicians and judges, the whole society loses.