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Why I told you my story
Paul Ojanen first contacted Minnesota Public Radio several weeks ago to respond to a story about methamphetamine use and its impact. Ojanen wanted to share his thoughts about the devastation that alcohol abuse causes, but seems to be ignored. Ojanen and MPR reporter Chris Julin decided to take a tour of "Alcoholic Central" in Duluth. Here, they each describe how the project came together.

Duluth, Minn. — When I first contacted MPR, I did not foresee this happening. I was merely responding to a story I heard about methamphetamine, the latest headline-causing drug. It is not that meth isn't serious. It is. From personal experience, I would say if there is anything capable of producing evil, it is meth. It is terrifying what meth can do. But alcohol is terrifying too.

What I want people to understand is that addiction is everywhere, leaving mangled lives and death in its wake, and the cheapest, most-available drug of all, alcohol, wrecks more lives than all others combined.

I want people to see the human beings who walk through this wasteland. And I want people to get past the standard responses of anger or laughter when they see addicts of any sort stumbling down the street, or passed out on the sidewalk. It isn't funny. They are dying as you watch. Do we laugh at someone who's dying of cancer?

As a society, we're proud of our successes, of our wondrous technologies and our grand future. But somehow we don't have the resources to deal with the wino drinking malt liquor on the street in Minneapolis, or the children placed in foster homes when mom and dad wander off in a drunken stupor.

Underlying most discussions about addiction is the persistent belief of choice, that somehow addicts maintain some control over their actions. This is not true. Would anyone consciously choose such a life?

My own history and what I have seen over the years tell me this: No.

Addiction isn't caused by moral weakness. It is a disease. And I'm living proof that something can be done about it. Without treatment, I would be dead, or imprisoned again. And I'm lucky I live in Minnesota. In many other states I would not have gotten treatment.

We may not be able to end the problem, but we can definitely make an effort to repair lives or make the sick comfortable. It's about money and resources. We don't need anymore Hazeldens to house celebrities. Rush Limbaugh didn't sit on a waiting list waiting for treatment.

Simply put, the sick deserve attention. They deserve treatment beds. They deserve access to the anti-depressants which make recovery easier. After all, we are all human beings.

That is why I chose to tell my story.

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