Not too long ago, Americans were having a good laugh at Canada’s expense as the mayor of Toronto went on a Charlie Sheen bender and broke pretty much every rule we thought there was about what a politician can do and still expect to survive. Unfortunately, the sad story is over and Rob Ford has passed away, reportedly from cancer, at the age of forty-six.
Whatever you thought of Ford’s politics, it was clear near the end that he was suffering from significant substance abuse problems and the mental health issues that frequently accompany addiction. So, on the occasion of Ford’s passing, I’ll repost what I said back in my November 2013 Rob Ford is Not a Joke piece:
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford clearly has a very serious substance abuse problem that has grown to the point that it is affecting his mental stability. If he had cancer, people wouldn’t joke about his disease. But since being an out-of-control alcoholic who occasionally partakes of cocaine and opiates is so amusing to everybody, Mr. Ford’s disease is treated as a hilarious joke. It’s not a joke. His brain has been disrupted. He needs treatment.
When addiction is treated as a joke, it makes it much harder for people who need to be in recovery to open up about their problems and seek help. The stigma associated with addiction is like a jet-fuel that makes it immeasurably more difficult for our society to make the changes in policy we ought to be making. How many people are there who are pointing their fingers at Mr. Ford and laughing but who are privately unable to stop popping pain-killers or keep away from alcohol?
The biggest societal problem facing our teenagers right now is opiate addiction, which starts with prescription pain killers and leads directly, almost every single time, to heroin addition. In September, 63 people overdosed on opioid drugs in the town of Bensalem, Pennsylvania. This is not normal, folks. Most of those people were kids, and the ones who survived will be thrown in a detox for five days and set loose to steal and rob until they are incarcerated or die. When you develop an opiate addiction, you need extended help, but it’s still a hell of a lot less expensive than imprisoning someone. We need new policies to address this but we also need a national awakening to what addiction is, which is a very serious, chronic and recurring disease (like cancer) that requires sustained medical attention.
The more we joke about the most outlandish victims of this disease, the farther we get from that national awakening.
Ironic that he died of cancer, no?
Had he overdosed on Percocets and whiskey, too many people would think it was the hilarious and fitting end to a good joke.
And, in any case, our national disgrace doesn’t even drink because his brother died of alcoholism.
My condolences to the Ford family. Rob Ford died too young.