Despite landmark advances toward the legalization of marijuana and new victories against the major cartels, America’s drug war is heating up from coast to coast.
In New England, the governors of Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine addressed drug abuse in their state-of-the-state speeches. Heroin, remarkably, is the leading source of alarm. Vermonters take $2 million in heroin per week, Politico reports, with some 80 percent of inmates doing time for drug offenses.
In Tennessee and surrounding areas, the dominant threats are methamphetamines and prescription drugs. The Centers for Disease Control declared narcotic painkiller abuse an epidemic in 2011.
In California, the use and abuse of drugs has long been a part of everyday life — from pot to crack to Prozac and beyond. But new studies are helping to show that there’s still more to learn. CDC researchers recently discovered a strange trend: Prescription drug misuse had leveled off, but misuse that ended in a trip to the emergency room, the recovery clinic — or the morgue — were all rising fast.
The researchers determined that doctors were supplying more prescription drugs to chronic abusers than they had imagined. But in reaching that conclusion, they first adopted a belated methodological distinction between frequency of misuse. Before, those who occasionally used prescription drugs for nonprescription purposes were lumped in with those who did so chronically. No longer.
That’s the kind of simple conceptual shift that will help America get a handle on drug abuse. It’s not good enough to just ratchet up the “war on drugs,” with the costly increases in policing, jail time and interdiction that it involves.
Not only are Americans tired of the meager results the traditional drug war achieve, they’re weary of the atmosphere of crisis that politicians and the media stir up every time the data suggests many Americans are in trouble. Columbia psychologists investigating the facts behind the “meth epidemic” learned that the fear-mongering surrounding meth use isn’t nearly as rooted in reality as you might think. Nobody wants to be accused of being “soft” on hard drugs, but we’re beginning to acknowledge that it’s important to maintain perspective.
Keeping perspective on drugs doesn’t mean giving in to widespread public harm. It does, however, mean changing our focus in the same way the CDC did — drawing a distinction between those who control their use of any kind of drug and those who are controlled by their drug use. Roughly put, the most important drug divide in America is between those who are addicted and those who aren’t.
Making this leap allows us to get serious about addiction — not just treating it, but preventing it. The preponderance of the evidence suggests that occasional drug use of any kind often isn’t the fast track to addiction that we typically suppose. That implies what common sense has long told us: the worst misuse of drugs has much less to do with the properties of the substance than with the mindset of the user.
Reclaiming lives from drug dependence may require us to view chronic drug use and addiction as just one of the many harmful living patterns that we’re led into by our fears and desires.
— From the Orange County Register