Wurzweiler School of Social Work PhD candidate, addiction recovery specialist, and founder of the New Jersey non-profit Balm In Gilead, Viva White visited Riverside Memorial Chapel to kick off the second of a series of Wurzweiler Care Cafes around New York City. White spoke to a diverse audience about her experiences in supporting clients struggling with addiction. She blazed through current topics, from the socioeconomic disparities in drug sentencing, to a look at the drug epidemic as we move from mass incarceration of minorities, to the opioid addiction crisis in more affluent communities. White took note of the real price of the investment in the prison economy rather than in our citizens.
“What have these people not been able to do because of incarceration?”
She prompted the audience to think of the lost skills, the lost potential, the lost esteem, the lost socialization, and all the many losses incurred when an addict is sent to jail rather than to rehabilitation. White also spoke about barriers that need to be taken down, so that we can better support our clients and peers.
“We stigmatize, we analyze, we demonize, but these are people, people who need help.”
Touching on the less obvious yet critical factors that create barriers to mental health treatment, she explored cultural ideas around mental health, minority groups’ fear of medical institutions (due to human testing such as the Tuskegee experiments), and the lack of minority representation in the medical profession.
Audience members added to the conversation by asking poignant questions and sharing their own experiences, as social workers, as supporters, and as people struggling with addiction. One audience member asked for advice about a family member, while another brought to the table pertinent information about the challenges the elderly face in managing pain responsibly, effectively, and knowledgably.
In the close of her talk, White expressed hopes of a future where we treat anyone struggling with addiction without stigmatizing or demonizing them.
“We say war on drugs, but this is not really a war. Because do we really want to be at war with people?”
– Michelle Bialeck has been working with at-risk youth and immigrant families for well over a decade and is looking forward to attaining a PhD in social welfare.