Finding solutions

A workplace shooting, multiple drug overdoses and absent middle school students. We’ve recently encountered all these issues locally, and dealing with them is a challenge. How can we find solutions that really work?

Any time there is a workplace or school shooting, the first topic that is brought up is gun control to prevent these shooters from gaining access to guns. We have arguments about what, if any, control measures are needed and if we should allow more people to carry guns to stop these shootings.

However, these solutions aren’t making the problem go away, so how can we solve this problem?

In the past few weeks, there have been many cases of drug overdoses in Bartholomew County. Some of those who overdosed died while others were revived. Police regularly look for and arrest drug dealers and those who use drugs, but the problem isn’t going away.

Maybe we can learn from Central Middle School’s approach to absent students. As reported in the April 12 edition of The Republic, administrators at Central began calling parents to find out why students were missing. Some were just cases where a parent forgot to call in the child’s absence. Others required more investigation. Some students have situations at home “from a parent losing a job to substance abuse by parents or students” that the school district may be able to help with.

Punishing students for missing school did not solve the problem. When Central changed its focus from punishment to trying to understand why students missed school and then addressing those issues, the number of unexcused absences decreased. Students can learn what is being taught better if they are actually at school, and Central’s new approach meets that goal by dealing with the underlying issues of students’ absences.

In the case of shootings, what are the underlying issues? Why are people going to schools or workplaces and shooting others? In some cases, the shooters have a mental illness. For those cases, we need to be more open about mental illness and get rid of the stigma attached to it. More treatment options could also be made available. In other cases, anger or feeling misused may be the motive.

What drives a person to resort to murder? Someone may make us upset, but is it necessary to kill them because of that? Does the prevalence of guns in our society make shootings more likely when a conflict arises? This problem has many underlying issues, so we need to keep working to find the right set of solutions.

Now what about drug abuse and addiction? How can we fix that problem? To stop addiction, we need to figure out why people start using drugs in the first place.

I recently listened to a TED (technology, entertainment and design) talk where Johann Hari explained one possible reason that drug addiction occurs. He discussed a study conducted on rats in the 1960s in which a rat was put in a cage with two water bottles. One was regular water and the other was laced with either heroin or cocaine. The rat almost always preferred the drug-laced water and would overdose rather quickly.

In the 1970s, psychology professor Bruce Alexander noticed that in this study the rat was alone in the cage with nothing to do except use drugs. He wondered what would happen if the rats’ environment was different. He designed cages with plenty of food, toys, tunnels and other rat friends. These rats also had the two different water bottles, but in this case the rats almost never used the drug water and none of them used it compulsively or overdosed as the rats in the first study did.

So, what was different? The rats in the second study were happy and were connected to friends. Hari then discussed the work of professor Peter Cohen, who believes addiction should be called bonding.

“Human beings have a natural and innate need to bond, and when we’re happy and healthy, we’ll bond and connect with each other, but if you can’t do that, because you’re traumatized or isolated or beaten down by life, you will bond with something that will give you some sense of relief,” Hari said.

Drugs are one such thing.

Hari’s solution is to help addicts feel connected. Punishing them, shaming them and giving them criminal records prevents them from doing that. He also suggests deepening the connection you may have with addicts in your life by letting them know you love them no matter what they are doing and to let them know they are not alone.

In all of these cases, investigating the underlying issues helps to prevent the problem. We should do more to explore those issues instead of just reacting to the problem itself.

Yes, we still need to respond to the problem, but figuring out and solving the issues that cause these problems are the only ways to truly eliminate them.

Susan Cox is one of The Republic’s community columnists, and all opinions expressed are those of the writer. She is a mother, an adjunct instructor of English at Ivy Tech Community College-Columbus and a substitute teacher for Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. She can be reached at