LTE: On “Legalize All Drugs”

Graphic Content: The following contains descriptions of sexual abuse and drug use. Reader discretion is advised. 

 

It was a room with over 40 of us. Tears streamed down our faces. I’ve never been able to shake off the pain Treva shared with us that Sunday afternoon. After the residents’ visitation time with family, she called a “community meeting” and shared something she’d been covering up most of her life. Her mother was a prostitute who used that to support her heroin habit . . . and her family.

Treva was only about six years old, at the time when her mother came home with a “John” who asked “How much for the girl?” You know what followed.

Heroin quelled her pain for many years as she struggled to come to grips with that violation. She also became a prostitute.

Treva cleaned up and was a waitress in a delicatessen, but the heart damage from dirty needles took her life.

As her drug counselor, she confided in me that her mother told her she had been gang-raped as a teen and a lifelong addict. The pain was intergenerational. So was the desperation.

If our society was less hostile and more loving, Treva would be alive today. She had started to become a productive citizen. She could have legally been prescribed a purer medication and provided support to work through her pain.

Instead, America chose to make drugs illegal. It was based the rationalization to punish drug use on a study that showed rats preferred to self-medicate rather than just drink pure water.

“Legalization”, “Decriminalization”, “Medicalization” or however you want to put it; it’s time to end the War on Drugs and time to end spending some $35K/year per inmate on incarceration in Iowa and use it to educate our kids better, support jobs and entrepreneurship, provide better mental/physical health and more.

Prohibition failed in the 20th Century. We legalized alcohol and Mothers Against Drunk Driving has been successful in lessening the traffic deaths. Many of us used to smoke cigarettes, even being told our doctors preferred a particular brand. Campaigns to make us healthier worked!

The War on Drugs has given our country the highest incarceration numbers in the world. Yet the last decade, according to recent news stories, has had increasing death rates from overdoses.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Yes. Prohibition works. NOT!

It’s time to divert money from law enforcement/incarceration to health care, education and employment. Clearly, legislating personal habits doesn’t work. Just because we understand that drug abuse isn’t good for people we care about, doesn’t mean that making it illegal is good for them. History tells us people are creative and will find a way to do what they want to do.

Legalizing drugs does NOT mean using them is OK. It only means that we can control the purity of what’s used and support people in “having a conversation” about WHAT they’re using!

Treva might be alive today if she worked with a doctor, had cleaner drugs and needles, and the opportunity to find a better way of healing the hurt from her mother allowing her to be raped at the age of six.

Like so many who make narcotics their “drug of choice”, Treva was the classic example of the old folktale “The Princess and the Pea”. No matter how she tried to cushion her pain, she still felt it though she didn’t get to its real source until she detoxed and started the personal journey of feeling through.

If she had to go to a clinic to get her medication, a sensitive treatment professional would have been in the position to have her consider therapy.

If her mother had gone to a clinic she might have been encouraged to work through the pain of the gang rape, get an education and obtain gainful employment.

Pharmaceutical narcotics are much less dangerous and expensive than those on the streets. In addition to that, there’s no quality control in street drugs.

Quality control is a side benefit to ending the War on Drugs. 40 years ago, I worked in a storefront program for kids who dropped out of school, teaching them how to get their GED diploma. Most hung out during the day, often smoking something they thought was “angel dust”. It wasn’t. It was pot sprayed with Raid and they suffered permanent brain damage. I doubt medical professionals would prescribe “angel dust” but perhaps something similar. Had those kids worked with a doctor, I believe the underlying issues that had them preferring that drug could have been uncovered and dealt with.

That is a key aspect of substance abuse: undiagnosed mental illness. It is well known by professionals that many abusers have ADD/HD, are undiagnosed bi-polar, depressive, borderline personalities and more. They are known to self-medicate according to what the drug does for their discomfort.

The War on Drugs is killing them and costing us in many ways. Drug abuse is stupid but the abusers aren’t. It takes a lot of talent to be devious and creative dealing with getting the money and the drugs they want in the attempt to maintain a level of sanity for themselves. We are deprived of their latent skills and talents. Our families suffer from the pain inflicted by their behaviors that many times end in incarceration.

Our war veterans suffering PTSD, overdose or end up in prison or become dysfunctional and homeless . . . when they simply wanted the pain to go away.

Since the War on Drugs started, our prison population swelled from some 200,000 to 2.2 million. The annual total incarceration costs are pushing 39 billion dollars annually. As of 2010, a study of 40 states revealed we were spending over $107 million a day keeping people in cages called prisons, many for their drug involvement.

As a side note, researchers have indicated that substance abuse is more the result of social conditions and less that of the drugs. The researcher noted that traditional rat studies on addiction had the rats essentially in a condition of solitary confinement, with the stress likely a causal factor in preferring morphine laced water over pure water – essentially self-medicating. In contrast, his “rat park” had different results, leading him to suggest addiction to be a result of social conditions, and with that, the opportunity to handle the problem humanely.

At a time when we’re being told that our government is broke, we see one of the reasons why. It appears to be partly due to the War on Drugs.

Let’s repair our society, our people and our government by ending the War on Drugs and bringing out the best in our citizens in the process.

-Bob Babcock

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