Overcoming avenues of substance abuse

Substance Abuse affects the LGBT community
Substance Abuse affects the LGBT community

Nurturing the practice of mindfulness could be one of the most valuable things one can do. Unfortunately, for some of our New Jersey brothers and sisters, knowing one’s self isn’t always easy, personal growth can feel suffocating or scary, and at its core might potentially live throes of addiction.

Substance Abuse affects the LGBT community
Substance Abuse affects the LGBT community

Amy Menes, works at Hunterdon Prevention Resources. And is the Rx/Opioid Chair in Hunterdon County, she sees the perilous effects of substance abuse, particularly heroin, falling heavy on communities in New Jersey. Amy is passionate and compassionate when she intervenes between drug abuse and its victims.

Menes said 70% of heroin abuse starts with prescription drugs. She stressed that people safely store medicine or set up or find “safe disposal” stations in neighboring towns that can be a transformative method of drug cessation. The challenge she believes is that many towns, especially in more affluent areas (i.e. Hunterdon county, one of the most affluent counties in New Jersey), are not often willing to admit that there is a problem. The result of this negligence is potentially higher death rates from overdoses, especially in young adults.

Menes noted that even the employment of medical doctors is compromised if they avoid prescribing, and doctors are often sued if prescription resources are underutilized, a startling fact that undoubtedly points towards increased substance abuse.

Substance Abuse affects the LGBT community
Substance Abuse affects the LGBT community

Death rates and addiction has risen in recent years in older, white adults according to a 2015 study of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Menes shares that this increase is a form of racism working against communities. Some doctors are often more wary of prescribing drugs, said Menes, to people of color (mainly African American and Hispanic men and women) as they assume these patients may misuse or sell prescription drugs. That said, what is called “Medical Racism” isn’t a new function in medical communities, and does prevent minorities from getting proper health care, a sentiment supported by Medical News Today in a 2012 study.

All of this information is disconcerting and complex. But LGBT communities are not exempt from the weight of addiction. NBC News recently reported that LGBT adults have higher rates of drug abuse than that of their heterosexual counterparts. NBC shares a report from the Department of Health’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration that nearly 40% percent of LGBT men and women had experienced illicit drug abuse in the past year, compared to a 17% of heterosexual adults. That said, the NBC article does address that there is a surprising lack of more data in this area, and that this is an underrepresented topic covered in an underrepresented demographic.

Under representation in the LGBT demographic, generally, may lay an unstable foundation for sober lifestyles. In the tenure of our community’s “coming out” journey, societal perception and a judgmental humanity has often been an enemy at the frontline.

Substance Abuse affects the LGBT community
Substance Abuse affects the LGBT community

Walking hand in hand with a loved one, to some, feels eons away, stifling one’s true expression. For others, bold expressions of intimacy might be a form of activism and protest. The spectrum of expression in one’s sexuality is a swinging pendulum, and this inconsistency doesn’t help promote cessation for those struggling with addiction.

It’s often easy to look at our heterosexual brothers and sisters and see an image of safety, confidence, comfort, and normalcy. Many might argue, however, that living within societal “norms” has its own significant turbulence. Regardless, there is still a long way for LGBT folks to journey before feeling a heart encapsulating, spirit encompassing, and comprehensive inclusion. Inclusivity may be the very thing that gives life to the hearts of those who have turned to substance abuse, bringing healing to the hurting.

How much more does heroin and opioid abuse impact our community when shame, guilt, judgment may be active in the very places where recovery and support might live? Many clinics and rehabs may not always feel like the safest place for recovery, much in part, to a stigma or stereotype attached to the LGBT community. Moreover, for many, the four walls of a club or bar might seem safer, because there is a more widely accepting community.

Clinics and rehabs do uphold strict discrimination regulations in terms of their treatment, so the LGBT community does have access to treatment. But deep-rooted fear in our community may keep some from seeking freedom from pursuing recovery. Some suggest the club or bar is becoming less and less a watering hole for our communities. As a former Community Outreach Director, I notice increased inclusion in many churches, medical institutions, residential communities, and social groups. This may open new doors for healing in the LGBT community.

Most clubs or bars aren’t free of substance abuse, and its sanctuary, in some ways, may instigate substance reliance. For some, the mere expression of sexual intimacy isn’t enjoyable or possible without a bottle of “poppers” or a freshly rolled joint, an idea supported by LGBT Drug Rehab. Deemed harmless by many, a way to relax for most, an agent of enhanced pleasure by others; drugs, alcohol, and sexual/mood enhancers like these are still potential gateways that may lead people into a deeper level of heroin and opioid abuse.

What do we do as a community to wrap our arms around those caught in the perils of substance abuse, and how do we overcome this steady rise of addiction? Where does the neglect of mindfulness distract us from sobriety? With influences strong enough to distract us from authentic versions of ourselves, does a world exist where substance abuse is last to the great value of checking in with one’s heart and mind?

As it turns out, there is great hope for those tangled in destructive drug abuse. Simple practices to promote drug cessation can throw large rocks into still waters, especially as it relates to heroin and opiate abuse. This includes the aforementioned methods of better drug disposal and responsible maintenance of prescriptions.

Governor Christie, admittedly within significant political tension, signed anti-opioid legislation this year. Locally, Frenchtown, NJ hosted a sober Pride event in 2017. Organizations like Hunterdon Prevention Resources will create safe environments that promote true, comprehensive recovery. Creative, organic therapy in the form of artistic expression, fitness, and community outreach help many in recovery.

Awareness and willingness to grow, present mindedness, and a perception of what could be “the bigger picture” is going to be the leverage that brings us forward in the fight against substance abuse. A desire to pursue health, especially as a member of the LGBT community in our “coming out” journey, is going to put a fire under progress.

There is a new fight to fight, and from Stonewall to now, our resilient community has overcome, pursuing freedom in expression, life, love and so much more. Fighting against substance abuse and reliance is an opportunity to show the LGBT community is a healthy, whole community, willing to make strides that will set an example for those ahead of us. This will bring us closer to the comprehensive inclusion we all deserve.

There’s a new challenge, a new chapter, and new opportunity to do the best we know we can do — that is to overcome.

Johnny Walsh
Johnny Walsh is Out In Jersey’s style and design editor. He is a pianist, writer, and entrepreneur who has performed in over 20 states and two countries. Johnny is passionate about human rights, creativity, and the arts, and longs for the sentiment of social justice to flow through his writing.