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Most Utahns can put face to addiction

Utahns know all too well the face of substance abuse.

One out of every three say they have an immediate family member who has had problems with dugs or alcohol.

Almost two out of every three Utahns say they have an extended family member, close friend or work associate who has had problems, according to a poll conducted for the Deseret News by Dan Jones & Associates.

But Utahns are rather mixed in their attitudes toward addiction.

The poll of 400 Utahns, conducted in the fall of 2001, found that 58 percent of those questioned agreed with recent scientific research that shows addiction is a brain disease that requires medical treatment.

But almost the same percent — 56 percent — agree addiction is a moral failing.

It may seem contradictory, said Pat Fleming, director of the state Division of Substance Abuse, but it is more likely a recognition by the public that "the choice to first use is a behavioral choice, and that once certain people start to use they do lose their ability to control their use and they abuse."

In short, what started as a choice became a disease, much in the same way diabetes is a disease precipitated by lifestyle choices made earlier in a person's life.

According to the Deseret News poll, 62 percent have a family member, close friend or work associate who has had a problem with drugs or alcohol. Thirty-five percent said someone in their immediate families had a problem with drugs or alcohol, while 7 percent admitted they had had a problem.

Fleming said the 7 percent figure is "dead on" with state survey numbers, but he was surprised by the 35 percent with immediate families with substance abuse problems.

"I think what it is telling us that the problem is much bigger than the 5 percent (that) needs treatment," he said.

State officials estimate 100,000 Utahns statewide are in need of substance abuse treatment.

"There aren't too many families that don't have someone with a substance abuse problem, or people who don't have close friends with a substance abuse problem," said Lou Callister, who with his wife Ellen started the Edward G. Callister Foundation, better known as Project Hope, in honor of their son, who repeatedly battled cocaine and alcohol addiction before he was killed in a car accident.