Looking back at the height of my addiction, being arrested for a felony and spending time in a workhouse were not deterrents. A desire to abstain from addictive substances is invariably not enough to achieve sobriety. Every addict has pined for sobriety and kicked themselves upon relapse. It was imperative that I remove myself from the environment in which I used drugs. Honestly, that’s the most difficult step. Thankfully, my sentence included a path to treatment, for good behavior. Upon spending 28 court-ordered days in a rehabilitation facility, I began understanding my addiction and what in my past had led me to the decisions I made.
That’s why I was horrified reading Jon Tevlin’s column “Mayoral hopefuls lob mostly softballs” (March 12). The column is offensive, sexist and dangerous. Commenting on Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges’ speaking style, Tevlin wrote: “She speaks in a kind of imprecise vernacular you often hear from people who have spent time in rehab or therapy.”
I spent seven months in rehab; I credit rehabilitation and structured support for my sobriety. I know how statements like Tevlin’s further stigmatize and alienate people who are suffering, while minimizing the prevalence of addiction in modern society. This reinforces systemic inequities. Drug addiction is a marker of community health, not individual intent.
Minneapolis has not reviewed or renewed its Pre-Employment Drug & Alcohol Test Policy since 2008, forcing us to use harsh and unfair federal guidelines. We should create policies that ensure job stability and concentrate on treatment, not criminalization. As a society, we should not only promote rehabilitation and therapy, but also support our neighbors seeking treatment.
Drug addiction is becoming even more prevalent here and across the nation. According to the Minnesota Department of Human Services, between 2000 and 2015, admittance for opioid addiction rose 13.3 percent across all races; the largest increase was in Native communities — admittance rose 32.7 percent.
Struggling with chemical dependency is an education. In the past, I would wake up every morning thinking about what I needed to do to get high. It didn’t matter what was on my schedule for the day. Drug treatment was my door to freedom and dignity; I will always speak out against misinformation and misunderstanding around it.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, in Minneapolis and St. Paul, the number of heroin-involved emergency department visits tripled from 2004 to 2012. Overall, 16.5 percent of Twin Cities admittances to treatment centers were for heroin addiction, second only to alcohol.
Substance abuse and addiction can absolutely be addressed at the city level; we must take a restorative health approach. Individuals struggling with substance abuse and addiction face difficulties sustaining housing and employment, and are compelled to higher rates of crime. Criminalizing addiction is not a solution — nearly 50 percent of individuals incarcerated suffer from clinical addiction.
Minneapolis must work with Hennepin County and the state of Minnesota to develop long-term solutions and ensure a pathway to recovery for all users. The epidemic must be quashed from many angles. By passing a $15 minimum wage, we will lift tens of thousands out of poverty and lessen the trauma inequity forces on populations. Economic stability combined with housing opportunity and available mental health treatment will reduce the spread of addiction, while we create solutions for those unable to remove themselves from toxic environments.
To improve public safety and decrease rates of incarceration, we need to prevent addiction. My action plan will include an intergovernmental Substance Abuse and Treatment Advisory Council to serve and inform the city. With that insight, and after analyzing addiction data on Minneapolis, we will amend outdated policy and develop best practices for our police department to assist offenders suffering from addiction.
Understanding the prevalence of addiction in modern society is important, not only to deter comments like Tevlin’s but to increase awareness and replace the general misunderstanding of substance abuse with a factual, humanitarian approach.
Raymond Dehn, a Democrat, is a member of the Minnesota House and a candidate for mayor of Minneapolis.