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Drug abuse is a disease, not a sign of bad character

Recovering addict Phaedra Ward talks about an overdose last December that gave her the motivation to get help. (Lloyd Fox/Baltimore Sun video)

In Meredith Cohn's and Kevin Rector's excellent reporting on the fentanyl infiltration into the heroin epidemic ("Fentanyl makes its way from Chinese labs to Baltimore streets, with deadly consequences," Oct. 13), Phaedra Ward's statement provides an important insight into the world of substance use disorder:

"If someone OD'd on a certain drug," she said, "I wanted it."

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Her words reveal that substance use disorder hijacks and re-wires the user's brain. This dynamic may not make sense to anyone who has not seen opioid abuse firsthand. Nearly a decade's worth of neuroscience research by the National Institute on Drug Abuse shows that addiction is a disease and not a sign of bad character.

For this and other reasons, our most immediate community response should be based on a public health approach, rather than a "lock 'em up" approach. This requires an "all hands on deck" commitment by policymakers, the business community, faith-based and nonprofit groups, civic organizations like Rotary Clubs, and others that emphasize prevention, treatment and recovery services. Working together, we can reverse and reduce this opioid epidemic.

Don Mathis, Havre de Grace and Linda Williams, Jarrettsville

Ms. Williams is executive director and Mr. Mathis is president of Addiction Connections Resource in Harford County.

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