Sadly, 23.5 million Americans are in long-term recovery for drug and alcohol addiction. This is a shocking statistic, but what’s more shocking is that these people can be considered the lucky ones. According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, almost half of the U.S. prison population is incarcerated for drug offenses. The sad truth is that the “War on Drugs” is a dismal failure, bluntly attempting to treat a health condition as if it were a crime and offering little in the way of genuine help. A new feature-length documentary aims to shine a light on the problem, giving a voice to “The Anonymous People” currently in treatment and aiming to drastically transform the discourse regarding addiction.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse identifies drug addiction as a “chronic, relapsing brain disease.” While acknowledging that personal choice has a crucial role to play when the individual first starts abusing a particular substance, the institute goes to pains to explain the structural changes that take place in the brain when addiction takes hold. Drug addiction is a choice at first, but it soon develops into a serious medical condition that requires treatment. It’s often likened to diabetes and heart disease—conditions which can result from life choices but still require urgent medical care.
This is why many argue that imprisoning drug users in the name of discouraging use amongst the population is harmful. Although the “War on Drugs” has been fought for decades, drug addiction is still a huge problem in the U.S. The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates the cost at over $600 billion each year when healthcare and crime-related costs are taken into account. Websites like Drug Sense run drug war clocks, which constantly tick over, calculating the country’s annual expenditure on tackling drug addiction. If you accept that addiction is a disease, the proportion of the prison population in for drug-related offenses seems all the more alarming.
Treatment usually takes the form of 12-Step groups, like Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous, operated by charitable organizations with the aim of helping people overcome addiction. Although Obamacare promises that as many as 5 million Americans will be eligible for Medicaid-sponsored addiction treatment programs in 2014, the number of people in need of treatment will still far outweigh those who are in treatment. The system isn’t working, from either a legislative or a healthcare perspective.
The Anonymous People
The film “The Anonymous People” aims to give a voice to those who are in treatment and asks much-needed questions about how we deal with addiction. The film argues that the anonymous nature of the 12-Step programs actually allows negative stereotypes about drug and alcohol addicts to perpetuate, because the problem is effectively hidden from public view. The public rarely gets to see successful recovery stories—they’re much more likely to encounter horror stories in the media about addicts eating people’s faces than those who make lasting, positive changes in their lives. It doesn’t blame the treatment providers—instead offering those in recovery a chance to speak out by interviewing public figures and celebrities who’ve struggled with addiction.
The overall argument from the film is that addiction should be treated like any other health issue. It draws a comparison, asking the viewer to imagine what it would be like if diabetes was treated like drug addiction—with nothing other than emergency treatment and short-term solutions. It asks questions that desperately need to be answered, like why drug addiction is criminalized at all, and why inadequate treatments are often readily rolled out.
The main aim, however, is to change the public perception of people in recovery for addiction, challenging half-baked prejudice and putting the viewer face to face with real people trying to overcome their problems. It recognizes that the first part of the solution is changing how we view drug addiction as whole.
Bringing About a Change
It’s been a long time coming, but increasing conversations on the topic could genuinely be bringing about a positive change in terms of how we deal with addiction. Policy-makers and the public alike are starting to realize that the old approach to tackling addiction isn’t the right way, and the focus is shifting toward a healthcare-oriented, humanistic solution.
“The Anonymous People” couldn’t have come at a better time. If the project garners enough interest on the approach to the July release, millions of Americans will see exactly why we need to revolutionize our approach to addiction treatment. It could put increasing pressure on public officials to broaden the discourse in the name of helping people in need across the country. The trailer is currently available online—as the film goes through post-production in preparation for release.