A story hit the headlines that has Kansas City up in arms. It is sad, frightening, and has sparked a lot of conversation about addiction and what is right and wrong. For me, this is further proof that addiction does not discriminate.

Addiction doesn’t care if you are educated, successful, homeless, healthy, smart, loved, happy, or sad. Call it a disease or call it whatever you want but understand this illness is killing people faster than anything and these people are our kids, our parents, our spouses, our teachers, and yes, our firefighters.

This young firefighter in Kansas City admits struggling with an addiction to pills but claims the first time he used heroin was on this day when he was found behind the wheel of his truck, passed out, syringe in hand, with 3 small children in his back seat. My city is baffled, scared, and some are outraged.

I have been listening to conversations since the story broke trying to figure out what my thoughts are. I deal with addiction everyday helping families find help, figure out next steps, learning how to heal from this deadly illness. As I have listened to various people talking about various angles; he should be fired immediately, firefighters and helping professionals should be drug tested consistently, lock him up and throw away the key, the only thing I feel is sad.

I feel sad that this young man has to deal with one of the hardest and most crippling illnesses one would ever face. I feel sad that his family is in tremendous pain. I feel sad that prescription pills are supposed to help and, for many, they are a deadly substance. I feel sad for his firehouse that will be under scrutiny and for his fellow firefighters who probably have a thousand questions and their little heads are spinning. I feel sad for those little children who were probably scared and confused. It’s just sad.

What I know for sure is there are many pieces to addiction. It is complex, there are many systems involved and, no, it is not a choice. No one would choose the slowest most painful path of self-destruction for their life. No one. Their is a genetic component, there is a psychological component, and there are about a million other things that come into play. And the simple truth is, people don’t understand addiction so we sit back and point fingers at it and play the blame game as if every person who struggles with addiction is morally bankrupt, or weak, or defective.

If this was a choice then millions of people everyday would simply make a CHOICE to stop. And if it were just that simple, then we would all do it, and all the treatment centers would close, and we would all live happily ever after. The reality is, there are around 14,000 treatment centers in America and none of them are struggling for clients.

Further, addiction changes your brain. So what may have started as a choice to have some drinks, or use drugs socially actually changes your brain and activates a system of craving and seeking that is entirely beyond any person’s control.

I believe almost everyone has things in their lives they are compulsive with. I work with people every single day and hear their issues and struggles, and almost everyone has something they can’t control. For most, it is food, or sugar. For some, it is work and for others it is exercise. Some shop even when they can’t pay their bills, and others act out in mom-aholism, or sex, or gambling, or dating, or lying. We are a society of overconsumption and instant gratification. Those are magical words for a brain wired in favor of addiction.

It seems as though there is so much finger pointing and blaming and shaming. And, when there is knowledge and experience and a true understanding of the illness then I respect you a million percent and will listen to every word. What bothers me is the people who are obese pointing fingers and this guy for his issues. The people that are cheating on their spouses, or cheating on their taxes, or getting drunk on a Friday or Saturday night while their kids are sleeping and talking about this guy’s issues. Everybody has issues. Don’t judge me because I sin differently than you.

This young man, did not wake up that morning and think to himself, “Hey, let’s take some pills, put the kids in the truck, shoot up heroin, and pass out in the middle of a busy street! That sounds fun!” It’s ludicrous.

Addiction is everywhere and it takes down whoever it wants. And it is getting younger. This opioid epidemic is entirely out of control and it is killing our children and our spouses, and siblings, and parents. I don’t like the blame game. It doesn’t help anyone or anything and it isn’t solution based.

What I love is the active dialogue. I love that people are talking about it and it opens opportunities to educate and offer guidance. It gets people more involved and makes them want to help, to do something, whatever that is. And the more people who care about the solution are the more people fighting for good and the more people who are educated about an ugly and scary topic.

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, get help. Ask questions, there is help.

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