A (Too-Often-Silent) Epidemic in Need of Everyone’s Attention

In a KPBS article, Dr. Jonathan Lucas, the county’s chief deputy medical examiner, said his office sees meth-related deaths almost every day. He reported a dramatic increase in methamphetamine-related deaths—more than the flu and homicides combined. Here in San Diego the meth epidemic is especially acute. Knowing people who have suffered meth addiction and death is part of my personal and professional experience. I have friends and colleagues who have lost loved ones—including teenagers—to meth, or have lost children, spouses, and friends to the justice system because of the ravages of addiction. At SAY San Diego, we hold a vision of opportunity, equity, and well-being for all San Diegans, and we have a talented team that takes a public health approach to raising awareness, increasing prevention, and reducing misuse and abuse of alcohol, tobacco, and drugs, through community empowerment, collaboration, and structural changes that include better practices, systems, and policies.

A reading of Other People's Kids. Photo by William Parno
A reading of Other People’s Kids. Photo by William Perno

In partnership with U.S. Attorney for Southern California Laura Duffy, the Playwrights Project, and many others we’ve taken one especially creative approach to increasing awareness of this issue in our community. Other People’s Kids is a play we’ve collectively commissioned, developed, and produced that retraces the tragic and complicated experiences of individuals, children, teens, parents, families, and entire communities when meth use and addiction become part of everyday life, and which offers hope and insight for healing. We are very grateful to all of our partners, including the County Probation Department, Second Chance, and the McAlister Institute, as well as many brave and generous individuals who shared their life stories to inform this production.

Don’t miss out! This moving and informative play will be performed at 7 p.m., March 16-18 at San Diego State University’s Experimental Theatre. Performances will also feature Finding Our Way, a play about recovery written by inmates at Donovan Correctional Facility.

While we were busy working on the play, the first-ever U.S. Surgeon General’s report to the nation on substance abuse and addiction was released stating, “The most important thing is we have to change attitudes towards addiction and get people into treatment.” It cites a deep and troubling “treatment gap” for those who fail to receive assistance due to lack of access, inability to afford care, fear of shame and discrimination, or lack of screening for substance misuse and substance use disorders in general health care settings.

The U.S. Surgeon General’s report suggests remedies for the treatment gap with efforts at the local, state, and federal levels to support access, affordability, screening, and treatment. To prevent and reduce death, harm, stigma, and many other collateral consequences, the report suggests:

  • Research to increase knowledge and understanding about addiction as a preventable and treatable disease.
  • Increased use of evidence-based treatments to save lives and restore people’s health, well-being, and functioning.
  • Promotion of greater access to support services such as peer supports, recovery coaches, and recovery centers.
  • Treatment rather than incarceration of non-violent individuals with drug use and possession charges.

We are resolved to speak up and to speak out to end the epidemic of meth addiction using a comprehensive public health approach. We hope you will too.