You don’t have to look far to see a news story, commentary, forum or news special focused on bath salts. Given the havoc being caused by this latest drug of choice, which is afflicting our communities and putting extreme drain on our police, EMS and our emergency medical and psychiatric health services, the attention is well deserved.
Having said this, our attention and conversations must not lose sight of the underlying problem — why do people ingest substances that cause them harm in the quest to feel differently? While bath salts has our immediate attention, alcohol is still the most abused drug, costing more than $100 million annually in Penobscot County alone. In addition, we still have a serious problem with opiate addiction and the misuse of prescription drugs is rampant.
The Public Health Advisory Board, consisting of a group of health, education, social service and mental health leaders in the community, view the bath salts epidemic as symptomatic of a larger public health issue — the misuse of substances, whether they are pharmaceuticals, street drugs, products found in homes or substances found in nature. We believe our community response needs to include the entire continuum from legislators enacting laws and appropriating funds, police enforcing these laws and keeping our communities safe, medical and mental health providing appropriate care, recovery community providing guidance and support to those suffering from addiction, public health officials providing accurate information to the public and media informing the public.
A sustainable, successful solution will not come from just one of these groups but must include all of these groups working in a coordinated manner. Any efforts will also involve providing resources and tools to empower individuals and families in our communities to achieve collaborative and coordinated responses.
If we are going to successfully address bath salts and all the other substances abused in our communities, it will take all these groups and many others working to provide accurate information, timely intervention and treatment.
The consequences of bath salts use should serve as a stark reminder of the serious damage happening in our families and communities due to substance use and abuse. While bath salts warrant the attention they are receiving, it should, most importantly, serve as a catalyst for a more basic inquiry: Why do people make such harmful choices and how do we, as a community, support healthier choices?
Substance use, abuse and addiction drain community resources, endanger innocent people and destroy families and lives every day in our communities. Bath salts, alcohol, opiates and other substances, both legal and illegal, are the instruments of that destruction. But from a public health perspective, we must engage in the fundamental issue: What drives a person to abuse alcohol or drugs in the first place and what can we do as a community to address the problem?
Shannon Bonsey is chair of the Bangor Region Public Health Advisory Board.