Sunday, March 14, 2010


As many of you know, my son Colby had several mental illnesses and passed from a drug overdose. So many people focus on the drug issue and yes, it was a big factor. But what most people do not realize is that a good percentage of drug users also have either a diagnosed or an undiagnosed mental illness such as depression, bi-polarism, panic disorder, etc. Here are a few interesting statistics from a presentation by Don McVinney, MSSW, M.Phil., ACSW, C-CATODSW, CASAC at a recent Harm Reduction Psychotherapy and the Treatment of Dual Disorders Northern California -Kaiser Permanente Conference:

37% of alcohol abusers and 53% of drug users also have at least one serious mental illness

Of all people diagnosed with a mental illness, 29% abuse either alcohol or drugs

As many as 50% of the mentally ill population are reported to have a substantial substance abuse problem

Axis I Disorders: (mood, anxiety, psychotic disorders) are 4 times more prevalent among alcoholics than non-alcoholics

Mood Disorders alone are two times more prevalent among alcoholics

Axis II Personality Disorders: (paranoia, schizophrenia, antisocial, etc,) are diagnosed in 65% of opiate addicts

Colby had diagnoses of depression, anxiety, panic disorder, paranoia, and schizophrenia. Yes, he died of a heroin overdose. But, so many people do not consider mental illness as a reason for drug use. Not all drug users are mentally ill, but you can see by the statistics that a good number of them are. Mental illness has such a stigma. Would people think differently of someone if, rather than a drug overdose, they had passed from a heart illness, or a liver illness? Sadly, I think they would. The difference is that a heart ailment or a liver ailment usually does not cause people to behave differently. A mental ailment does.

I mention this in the hopes that those of you who have loved ones who have a mental illness will keep a closer eye on them. I mention this in the hopes that those of you who are medical professionals will consider that the patient who presents as a drug user is using because he or she is mentally ill. And, I hope those of you who work in health insurance will consider that many, not all, but many, of the people who are either mentally ill or addicted can be helped if you will only offer them health care coverage. Give them a year, rather than 28 days, to recover in the knowledge that many of these people can be (and want to be) productive menbers of society. 

People who are recovering from cancer or from heart surgery typically have more than 28 days to recover. So please offer that same courtesy to those who are addicted and mentally ill.

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