Shaw: Santa Clara County should be proactive about treating drug addiction
A small dose of fentanyl, such as the two milligrams pictured here, is enough to kill a person. Image courtesy of the Drug Enforcement Administration.

    I am an individual who, like many other people, has a convoluted history of mental health and physical medical conditions, and utilize medications to offset the complications associated with these conditions.

    In addition to being neurodivergent, I also have attention deficit disorder or ADD. This isn’t attention hyperactivity deficit disorder or ADHD, because I don’t have hyperactivity. I just have the inattentiveness, aloofness and distractibility. It seems like I’m always running later than I intended no matter how early I plan to leave. I’ve missed a couple of flights within the past couple of years and have been the last person to board the plane on numerous occasions.

    I have problems starting assignments and projects without clear direction, and then problems completing them. I can be disorganized and scatter brained. Being neurodivergent makes it almost impossible to latch on to things I don’t have any interest in, but I can be superglued to things I am interested in—science fiction space opera audiobooks for example.

    So to help combat my issues, including maintaining a job and a healthy relationship with my loved ones, I take stimulant medication, preferably a specific brand. That was until a few months ago,  when the production of these medications began to slow.

    Even though I now have insurance with Kaiser,  it feels like I’m back in 2016-2019 when I was on Medi-Cal and could only use the county hospital Valley Medical Center. During this period of time it was impossible to get consistent medication from the same manufacturer, and the county hospital usually carries the cheapest generic medication. I would have bad side effects because of the nonactive ingredients in some of my medications, but it was all the county was willing to provide.

    Budgeting for mental health and addiction treatment centers was similar to what it is currently: nonexistent. Being sent to the hospital to obtain psychiatric care could be considered laughable if the situation wasn’t so serious.  I was admitted as a 5150 patient a couple times, and never stayed more than a night as an inpatient because Medi-Cal covers little, if any, costs. One night is not enough time to diagnose and set up a treatment plan for a mental health emergency, especially when dealing with depression medications that take weeks to settle in your body and balance you out.

    Santa Clara County seems to have forgotten that being proactive beats being reactive. Having rehab on demand is more cost effective than having emergency rooms and jail cells filled with individuals who just need treatment for addiction problems caused by capitalism. Having mental health facilities with doctors who actually treat their patients is more cost effective than an emergency psych ward with a revolving door for poor individuals.

    I remember there wasn’t an opioid problem 20 years ago, but once these painkilling drugs were introduced and handed out like candy to treat everything from sprained ankles to recovery from major surgery, the addiction population exploded, and it hasn’t stopped. I’m lucky I never fell into the pain killer trap, but there are many who went to county hospitals and came out finding they were dependent on the very medications that were supposed to help them. The county had an opportunity to foresee what was coming, if it paid attention to the numbers and the dependency trends.

    Opioids are synthesized from poppy plants used to create opium and heroin, which are highly addictive drugs. Many of the individuals who became dependent on opioids handed out by medical professionals are the same people out on the streets today using fentanyl.

    When there aren’t adequate centers available to help formulate treatment plans, then of course people are going to self-medicate and use illicit drugs, because they are addicts with no help from a county who helped make them who they are.

    Jerome Shaw is an unhoused advocate residing at the Plaza Hotel run by Abode. He is a neurodivergent individual who seeks to ensure people remain aware of the importance of mental health and mental health treatment in today’s society. Shaw is part of a group of homeless columnists writing for San José Spotlight’s In Your Backyard column to shine a light on the homeless experience in Silicon Valley. Contact Jerome at [email protected].

    Comment Policy (updated 5/10/2023): Readers are required to log in through a social media or email platform to confirm authenticity. We reserve the right to delete comments or ban users who engage in personal attacks, hate speech, excess profanity or make verifiably false statements. Comments are moderated and approved by admin.

    Leave a Reply