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I was dismayed to read John Metcalfe’s account of the hardened life and times of Aries Bond (“I’m More Than Just an Alcoholic,” 5/7). Sadly, Metcalfe fails to address issues of substance in favor of pure sensationalism. Bond’s misfortune was used to splash your front page with a captivating photo and storyline, yet lost in this compilation of scattered, liquor-induced quotes were important unanswered questions: Why is Bond giving in to the depths of his addiction? More important: How can Bond be saved from this terrible disease?
Yes, alcoholism is a disease. Yet it is treatable. And help is available to those who seek it. Missing from the story is an accurate description of a problem that grips our entire community in terror and sadness. There is no reference to the fact that 23 percent of Americans participate in binge drinking and 15 percent are classified as alcohol-dependent. Recent surveys show that more than 10 percent of the District’s population is addicted to alcohol and other drugs. More than 50 percent of District residents use alcohol.
According to the Mayor’s Interagency Task Force on Substance Abuse Prevention, Treatment, and Control, the social and economic costs of alcohol and drug abuse in the District of Columbia exceed $1.2 billion annually—that’s $2,100 per resident. More than $700 million of that annual cost is attributable to alcohol. Still, our excise taxes on licensed liquor stores in the District are among the lowest in the nation, making alcohol cheaper and more available. And there is one liquor merchant for every 10 residents in the nation’s capital. The public-health, social, and fiscal consequences of this problem are staggering, resulting in family breakdowns, emergency-room visits, car crashes, violence, premature births, and domestic abuse.
Bond is not alone in his discomfort. There are approximately 2,600 homeless chronic substance abusers in the District.
There are numerous prevention and treatment resources available through the District of Columbia Department of Health’s Addiction Prevention and Recovery Administration. Bond could be accessing various treatment options through our 24-hour detoxification clinic or numerous abstinence centers throughout the city. He could find hope and revitalization in our Continuing Care system or the “APEX” job and residential placement programs. The first step involves a call to action and a need for treatment.
Those of us who work on the front lines understand that alcoholism must be treated as a serious disease in need of serious treatment and cure. We hope that someday, Aries Bond will reach out, take his life back, and say with resounding confidence: “I am a recovering, sober alcoholic.”
Senior Deputy Director
Substance Abuse Services
District of Columbia Department of Health