Remember the campaign, “Just Say No”? It’s a simplistic assertion, but a worthwhile attempt—give children and teens some tools for asserting themselves and staying true to their values.
In the 198s0s, First Lady Nancy Reagan, promoted the concept in an attempt to keep children from drug abuse. A premise of the campaign was that even if a drug was relatively harmless, for example, marijuana, drug use was a gateway, and most any drug use would lead to addiction to harder drugs, such as heroin.
A key thing overlooked in this campaign, is that drug use is not the same as drug abuse. Today, we have a “War on Drugs” that continues to overlook the distinction between use and abuse. Our country spends billions of dollars annually on this “war”, and its fallout. We have prisons, jails, courts, border patrol agents, dogs, motorcycles, guns, ammunition, training camps, boats—all invested in the War on Drugs. We spend billions of dollars trying to stop drug abuse and its related costs (theft, health care, violence), using an approach that is based primarily on making drugs unavailable.
Why do we gloss over the fact that drug use and drug abuse are two different things? Why do we overlook the fact that drug abusers are addicts—and an addict will do what is necessary to quell a habit? We need to deal with addiction. As long as the key approach to drug abuse is to keep the popular illegal drugs illegal—we are failing to reduce addiction.
The War on Drugs is a big game. We cannot legalize drugs because there is too much money, power, and prestige wrapped up in keeping this war engaged. So, could we please turn to the addicts? If we really believe there is a drug problem in our country we need to stop randomly penalizing all the victims of that problem. If our society does not provide adequate help for addicts (and, it does not), then we are inhumane.
It is easy to point a finger at the festering face of a meth addict and announce that he needs to straighten up. It is easy to take away the newborn baby of a heroin addict because she is not a good mom. It is easy to say, “Lock ‘em up” when yet another crack addict gets caught stripping copper pipes from an empty house (to sell for scrap metal). But, when that’s all we do—when we blame the person and ignore the addiction—we are failing (and not loving) our neighbors.
Think about it. No one wants to be an addict. No one. Sure, a drug high might be a wonderful experience, but being driven by a lust for a drug, a desire that rules your life—no one wants that. You can say, “She wants to be that way”, but such declarations are based on wearing blinders.
Look around, at all our neighbors with the legal addictions. Look at that cigarette smoker who is coughing up a lung, and tell me she wants to be addicted (and unhealthy). Look at that woman shopping for hours each day on QVC and tell me she wants to be addicted (and bankrupt). Look at the man at the payday loan counter getting a $200.00 advance to use at the casino, and tell me he wants to be addicted (and so desperate).
Addiction is so strong.
If we are going to insist on a War on Drugs, it’s time we use some genuine, winning tactics.
It’s time that we say, as Portugal did more than ten years ago (Greenwald, 2009), we are not going to make you criminals because of your addiction, AND we are going to help you get over it.
The current “War on Drugs” is not helping drug addicts. To whatever extent the War’s tactics reduce the amount of drugs in our country, it just increases the price of those drugs. The War is not solving any drug problem in our society. If anything, it exacerbates the problems.
What we need to do now is de-criminalize the life of drug addicts—making it possible to come forward and get help, without criminal charges. The courts can still mandate treatment, and our society could provide real support for those facing addiction.
Why can’t we do this?
Greenwald, Glenn (2009, April 2). Drug Decriminalization in Portugal:
Lessons for Creating Fair and Successful Drug Policies. Retrieved February 17, 2012, from The Cato Institute Web site: http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=10080