Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Why We Must Feel Responsible for Each Other

This quote from the late Amitai Etzioni has become my new mantra: "...we are not merely rights-bearing individuals, but also community members who are responsible for each other."

While these words sound good on paper, are they realized in practice? 

The answer to that is quite simply: no. 

This, from Joseph Longley in Governing:

In 2023, for the third consecutive year, drug overdose deaths robbed more than 100,000 Americans of their lives, according to recently released data. The scale of this loss — a fivefold increase from the early 2000s — is shocking: Overdose deaths today outnumber fatalities from gun violence and car accidents combined.

Would a nation of people who truly felt "responsible for each other" stand idly by as over 100,000 of their brothers and sisters suffered such miserable and premature deaths? I would think not. 

Longley presents us with some disturbing data:

Despite the crisis we are in, 85.1 percent of people with a substance use disorder didn’t receive any addiction treatment in the past year. Meanwhile, only 43 percent of local jails provide medications for opioid use disorder — basic health care required by federal law. As a result, individuals returning from incarceration are up to 129 times more likely than the general population to die of an overdose.

Rather than offering these people the medication that they so desperately need, many states have doubled down on regressive punitive measures:

This legislative session... at least three states — GeorgiaIdaho and South Dakota — have enacted laws that make providing a deadly dose of fentanyl a homicide, despite evidence showing this does nothing to decrease overdose deaths. Arizona is among states that increased mandatory minimum sentences for drug trafficking, despite the evidence that mandatory minimums do not deter crime.

Humans require human-centric solutions, not neglect and punitive-posturing from states eager to win political points. 


While legislators may be tempted by the political sugar rush of passing tough-on-crime legislation, actually ameliorating this crisis requires patience, persistence and funding. With record federal funding and $50 billion in opioid settlement funds hitting state and local coffers, states and local jurisdictions can absolutely afford to make robust, game-changing investments in the entire continuum of care for substance use disorder: prevention, harm reduction, treatment and recovery services.

This, though, requires a shifting of temperament from policy makers. They must understand that addicts are people, too. They, probably more than anything, just need someone to walk with them. 

Marvin Olasky - in his seminal work, The Tragedy of American Compassion - emphasizes the importance of suffering with the needy, as opposed to helping them from a distance. 

It seems to me that, to truly help someone in need, you need to suffer with them. 

These states, however, appear to be legislating their way out of an issue that requires real human connection and understanding. 

To be sure, I could never understand what people suffering from addiction are going through. Not the faintest clue. But I do know this: a society that wishes to flourish and endure, must never let their people die such deaths of despair. 


  1. I am all for the re-establishment of collectivist sentiments in communities across America- the social cohesion of our nation is at serious risk of total disintegration. A cultural and communitarian revival is undoubtedly mandatory to achieve this. It must be pointed out that drug overdoses and deaths of despair are merely effects of this decline in social cohesion, communitarian values and moral virtue in the mainstream culture of America. However, the solution is certainly not for legislators around the nation to take a de-criminalized, lax stance on drug usage. I'm all for helping those who need rehabilitation, but strict laws should most certainly exist in relation to the subject, especially for those who are part of the distribution and spread of these dangerous substances.

    A society that becomes too tolerant of immoral behavior is one that is doomed to falter. We are already there in the present United States. I possess sympathy for those who are struggling with addiction, and I understand that many are ill people and should be treated as such. Again, I am all for charitable, private, and community -founded movements and organizations that wish to help with rehabilitation and sobriety, but I am not in support of lenient legislation that takes away punitive penalties for such usages in certain settings and for distributive purposes.

  2. Drug abuse is an illness, yet, we are desensitized to these poor souls sprawled on city streets. They, like street vendors and screeching, overhead subways, have become part of the urban landscape. Perhaps we feel sorry for a New York minute and say to ourselves "this was once someone's child!", as we rush to go get a latte.