Yesterday, federal prosecutors announced the arrest of a local man accused of being a ringleader in a drug distribution ring. This person is more than a physician assistant; he is also a husband, a father, a brother, a son.

In my opinion badgeThe disease of addiction is so widespread. And it can deal death and misery, even beyond the scope of those addicted. While we have the addict who is afflicted, and flirts with death every time he or she takes a hit, a pill, or shoots up, there is also the collateral damage to that person’s family, friends, and society.

In an overdose death, the person of course is gone forever from walking the earth, and all we have are memories. Mothers shouldn’t be burying their children. The toll upon children having a parent missing is huge, and undeterminable. I know this personally, having seen my sister overdose, and my niece and nephews forge on without her. I have seen my parents deal with this and, as an addict myself, was written off for dead until one day, with God’s grace, I got clean, and turned my life around.

In my career working in the field of addiction treatment, I have seen how the disease filters down to the children, whether or not they become addicts. They do also sometimes have other issues.

But what about others that are not family members of the addict — such as this man and his family?

There are many organizations here on Long Island alone that have been dealing with addiction: the Long Island Council on Addiction and Drug Dependency, FIST, (Families in Search of Treatment), “The Addict’s Mom” and many others. They have been all going after the doctors who overprescribe as well as illegally deal to co-conspirators. These acts are no different than the person dealing heroin and other substances. Maybe a nicer house, a nicer car, some college degrees on the wall, but no difference. Because the opiate does not know who it is going to. The opiate does not think.

I can’t tell you how a professional may steer off course. But one can probably guess it is money. Most may say it is greed. Money does not do this. Money is not the root of all evil, the love of money is the root of all evil. However, I cannot say in this case what the motivation was.

I cannot judge the local man said to be deeply involved in this crime. That is not my job. There but for the grace of God go I. However, I can be a concerned citizen about this type of crime, and how it affects the community, not just the addict. If guilty of these charges, he must be held responsible.

I grew up in a community where most everybody knew each other, and if you didn’t, you knew about each other. I think of his family. I know of his dad, I know his brother. And what I know of them, good people. The kind of good people Riverhead has always been known for. More collateral damage. Family members who although may not have lost a love one as a result of his addiction, but must pay penance as a result of his profiting on another’s active addiction. How do his wife and children cope with this?

I ask that your thoughts not be focused on the alleged crimes, but on uplifting the spirit of his loved ones, no differently than if we were praying for the families of a dead addict.

Yes, there are many mothers out there who are furious at these types of crimes that grease the rails towards a bottomless pit for the addict in the grips of addiction, sometimes ending in death. People, including my late sister, didn’t want to grow up and become an addict and overdose and die. I was a small town potato farmer; I did not want to grow up to be an addict and almost die. And I am just as sure the person charged with these crimes, didn’t want to grow up and to be a drug dealer.

I am glad I am alive today. My family is thrilled about it. I have dedicated my life to helping others recover from addiction. It does not mean I have lost empathy, it means I live and thrive on empathy.

So, I implore you: think not with hate and disdain towards this man charged, but with love and compassion towards his family. Let us not forget them. They had no choice in this matter, any more than my family had a choice while I was in active addiction.

We, as a society, will not win the war on drugs. We may gain a few momentary victories from time to time, but it is currently not winnable. We can, however, make huge strides in the war on addiction. This war encompasses education, treatment, closing loopholes in the illegal use of trust by legal prescribers.  This war is in every community — large, or sleepy small. It crosses all boundaries, all races, all religions, all levels of or lack of education. It is a disease that takes prisoner of not only the addict afflicted, but of the community as a whole.

 

Robert Hartmann Jr., NY State CASAC-t, is the owner of Mainstream House Recovery Homes and a board member of Mainstream Integrative Wellness Foundation. He lives in Riverhead.

 

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