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As our country and our communities become increasingly polarized, it seems the recognition of humanity is often the first victim. Locally, many among us have become so frustrated with property crime, homelessness and loose needles that we take to online comment boards or stand up at community meetings and the terms just spew out: "addicts," "junkies," "thieves," "tweakers," "zombies," "the walking dead."

While the frustration is understandable — and even excusable — the dehumanizing vitriol is not. Each and every one of these people whose addictions have come to consume them is someone's son or daughter. They are members of our community. Their pain is real. Their illness is very real. And most importantly, they are redeemable.

There's no better evidence of this than the subject of this week's cover story, the drug court program graduation held last month to honor the hard work of 11 people opening new — clean and sober — chapters of their lives.

It's important to remember as we join in celebrating their accomplishments — and make no mistake, bucking addiction to reclaim one's life is an accomplishment the likes of which those of us fortunate enough to have not experienced it will never fully comprehend — that these bright-eyed, hopeful graduates are no more human now than when their addictions were devouring them just a few short years ago.

There's a lot to digest in this week's cover by Linda Stansberry. There's the 26 year old who is now two years sober but had been arrested more than 30 times by the age of 24, the result of doing what he could to come up with the $200 a day worth of heroin that would keep him from becoming painfully sick. There's the 32 year old who first used methamphetamines when a family member gave her the drug before her 14th birthday and got to the point she was "always under the influence," but is now fully sober and employed, her light "brighter these days." And there's the team of probation officers who patiently wielded both carrots and sticks to get these 11 people down the path toward a new beginning.

Reading the story, we hope you'll find equal parts cautionary tale and hope. It speaks to the all-consuming nature of addiction, the slippery slope of that first taste, but also the endurance of the human spirit. Nobody is beyond hope.

And we hope you'll carry these people's stories with you as we as a community continue to talk about what to do about our high rates of addiction and dependency, how to reduce the flow of people in and out of our jail, clean discarded needles from our streets and parks, and get homeless people off the streets and into housing. These are complicated problems that inherently will need complex, multi-layered solutions, from better family care and support to more robust treatment programs. But we won't get anywhere constructive without recognizing the inherent humanity of those involved.

But most of all, we hope you'll join us in celebrating the monumental accomplishments of these 11 people and the hard work of a dedicated probation staff that helped get them there.

Hope demands a certain degree of courage and it takes a tremendous amount of it to reshape your life, staring down past failings and overcoming physical dependencies in the process. It takes even more to share your story in the hopes that it will help and inspire others.

So to the graduates of the Humboldt County drug court class of 2018, congratulations and thank you.

Thadeus Greenson is the Journal's news editor. Reach him at 442-1400, extension 321, or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @thadeusgreenson.

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Thadeus Greenson

Thadeus Greenson is the news editor of the North Coast Journal.

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