You’ve probably heard the joke, “Everyone complains about the weather but no one does anything about it.” I feel the same way about addiction in the USA—that I have a lot of complaints about how we think about and deal with drugs and drug users. I am appalled by how we treat those affected. I am appalled at misinformation that is widely distributed and believed. I am appalled at how narrow-minded we are in this country about treatment practices. I am appalled by the harm done to drug users, their families and communities.
I tell my recovery coaching students that people only complain about things they care about. I complain about how we deal with drugs and addiction, but I don’t do much about it. OK, I actively worry, and wonder, and have long internal dialogs. I give imaginary discourses, and write imaginary articles, lessons, and speeches about drug policy. It’s time for me to stop imagining and begin to share in writing what I have been learning and thinking. It’s time because I want to change the basic conversations we have about drug users and drugs, about addiction, treatment and about what it means to recover.
Today I will start complaining about the things I care about most deeply and offering my concerns about how addiction is managed in this country. Who knows if I will be more effective at changing addiction that I am the weather. If I am still actively blogging come winter, I’m sure to complain about the weather. I live in the Northwest, across the straight from Victoria, Canada and our winters are very grey, very damp, and go on November to July.
But the weather is lovely just now. So my first complaint is that we bad-mouth drugs too much. We are brainwashed by the media to associate crack use with crime, and crime with ghettoes. The media has long and effectively associated crack cocaine with African-Americans and problems such as shootings, poverty, and domestic violence. We blame a drug for problems that existed long before crack was invented. There has been so much negative press about crack that we think crack caused poverty and ghettoes. But it ain’t necessarily so.
As Dr. Carl Hart carefully describes in his book, High Price: A Neuroscientist’s Journey of Self-Discovery That Challenges Everything You Know About Drugs and Society, crime and domestic violence have long occurred in communities experiencing poverty, racism, and lack of opportunity—not just African-Americans communities, but any community under duress. Clearly crime and domestic violence were around were before crack but it easy to blame a drug.
Blaming drugs shifts the focus away from other likely causes such as institutional racism, lack of jobs, dismal educational opportunities, unequal treatment in the courtroom etc. If as much money had been spent in stressed communities to improve housing, schools, access to work as has been spent on jailing and incarcerating crack users from the ghetto, we would see a huge decrease in domestic violence and robberies, drug use. Because people use drugs to tolerate the intolerable.
Which leads me to my second complaint: we vilify drug users. Stigmatizing labels for drug users include: crackhead, junkie, tweaker, dope fiend, wino, whore, addict, stoner, drunkard. The use of such derogatory labels makes it easier to mistreat drug users and send people to prison for petty and common drug-related crimes. We forget that drug users are real people with names and lives, and loves, and hopes. In the United States we destroy lives, tear up families, deprive children of their parents, and casually put huge numbers of people in prison for using or selling drugs. We incarcerate more people for “drug crimes” than any other country in the world, and guess what, we use more prescription drugs than any other country. We are a nation of hypocrites.
It is incredibly hypocritical to selectively imprison members of certain ethic groups for using drugs when there are 20 million drug users in the USA, and when white college kids who use drugs don’t get arrested or are given probation if they do. Of course we don’t call selective incarceration of certain drug users racist or sexist, we call it “being tough on crime.” We have been conditioned by the media to accept an unspoken policy of institutional prejudice that is harmful and discriminatory. Vilifying drugs and drug users harms the entire nation and distracts us from addressing the underlying causes of addiction. If we want peace and happiness it is time to just say no to blaming certain drugs and to abusing drug users.
That is enough complaining for one day. By the way, Dr. Hart’s book is excellent. You can order it on Amazon by clicking here.