If you know or suspect that any of your friends, colleagues, or loved ones is suffering from a substance use disorder, please treat them with compassion and respect, and facilitate their getting help as soon as possible. Substance use disorders can be deadly and time is of the essence. 

Unfortunately, sometimes people with substance use disorders have a very difficult time realizing or understanding that they are addicted, and they will not always willingly accept help. This is an exceedingly complicated and stressful situation, and people have strong opinions on whether, and to what extent, coercion and interventions are appropriate.  In my case, I can honestly say that if I hadn't been forced into treatment, I probably wouldn't be in recovery. However, most studies show that people who enter treatment voluntarily fare better.  


Our health care system is flawed in how it treats people with substance use disorders, in that it doesn't always accept, respect, and pay for treatment in the same way that it addresses other diseases. This is because of the stigma of substance use disorders, and pure greed on the part of the health insurance companies. When dealing with these institutions, it's important to remember that the squeaky wheel gets oiled! One must strongly advocate for oneself and for one's loved ones.


Currently, the best way to access care for active substance use disorders is to work with either your primary care physician or your mental health provider, unless there is an emergency situation, in which case you may need to go to the emergency room or call 911. It is my understanding that emergency rooms are always open to accept patients, no matter what condition they are in. This is a safe place to bring your loved one, who can then be further referred to detox or whatever more in depth treatment they need.  

There are very welcoming, open and accessible communities of recovering people with substance use disorders that can be found by Googling groups such as the local Narcotics Anonymous (NA) and Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) chapter meetings  Self-help groups are, for many, a critical part of recovery from substance use disorders.  There are professionals who can help you with "interventions", should this prove necessary. They can be found on the internet, or through word of mouth.  Al-Anon ( is a helpful group that supports and educates family members of people with substance use disorders. There are many competent addiction psychiatrists and counsellors who are also available to help, if an outpatient level of care is what is required. There are also inpatient "rehab" facilities, but these are often quite expensive. Medications play a critical role in preventing overdose, and I am huge believer in "medication-assisted" treatment.




On a policy level, it is important to end our cruel and counterproductive "war on drugs," which treats people with substance use disorders as criminals not as patients deserving empathy and treatment.  

It is critical to help reverse and minimize the stigma associated with substance use disorders, as this perpetuates a deadly cycle of criticism and shame that prevents people from coming out of the shadows and getting help.  

Please feel free to send me your ideas for other great organizations, but some of the groups that are trying to help this situation are:


Doctors for Cannabis Regulation

Families for Sensible Drug Policy

Drug Policy Alliance



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