Life has a lot of peculiar happenings. One of these odd occurrences is America’s inability to change a wrong when everything in our fiber is crying out that a particular issue is being incorrectly approached. We must place the drug problem high on the list of a “wrong approach” to an issue that so many people are aware of what the “right approach” should be. This is an urgent issue because it has destroyed several generations and it is on the path of destroying future ones.
While we recognize prescription drugs are causing destruction, for our purposes here, we are emphasizing street drugs. There are some built-in protections for prescription drug abusers. They are not illegal and jail time is not a natural consequence, there is a degree of acceptance by society, thus the abuser is not classified as a “scum bag.” Unlike the street drug abusers, prescription abusers are likely to be employed, homeowners and considered to be good citizens. If street drug users were granted the same amenities as their counterparts, some of the murders, high unemployment and incarcerations would decline.
Like alcoholism, drug addiction is a disease. And, those addicted fall prey to the drug dealers, who fall prey to the drug suppliers, who fall prey to the economic rewards for merely getting the drugs “on the street.” So, it becomes a never ending story. Finally, politicians must deal with this issue from the bottom up. Let’s get the drug user healthy and the dealers and the suppliers will lose their market. But, we can’t get the user healthy by remaining committed to the outdated rhetoric of the ’70s!
President Richard Nixon, in 1971 started this ridiculous “war on drugs” and President Ronald Reagan’s wife, Nancy Reagan, made it worse in the 1980s. Mrs. Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign resonated with Americans and we bought into the nonsense. Let’s examine just how idiotic we were to think a war on drugs meant locking up the perpetrators.
For our purposes here, we are including all street drugs, marijuana to crack cocaine, to heroin to chemical and “designer” drugs. Since the “war on drugs” began, one trillion dollars has been spent fighting this war. Who is the enemy? Is the enemy the user, dealer or supplier? And, if the dealer is included, the dealer of what drug? Perhaps, not the supplier, or at minimum, rarely the supplier. The average citizen cannot name five suppliers, but perhaps can name five dealers, maybe. The average person, however, could name 50 users! But, again is the fight against marijuana, crack or chemical and designer drug dealers? Or, is the war against the user?
Whomever the war is against, America has lost the war! America has locked up a lot of people. There have been 45 million arrests since 1971 and 20 million have felony records. Felons are more likely than non-felons to be unemployed, in poverty and uneducated. To further complicate this war, racism seemingly is included as artillery. According to Michelle Alexander, author of “The New Jim Crow,” the war was “waged almost exclusively in black communities and the target was young black men.” Alexander contended four out of five black youth will be jailed in their lifetime and the majority for drug charges. These charges, according to Alexander, will be for a few grams of marijuana or crack-cocaine on their person. And, for crack-cocaine, blacks will receive longer prison terms than primarily white powder cocaine users and dealers. Because the more expensive drug perpetrator, by law, receives less time.
Yet, the drug problem is an issue effecting all ethnicities. Of course at different levels, but still an American issue. Social scientists consistently have said drug addiction is a disease. If no other reason, these scientist are right because treating the issue as a crime has miserably failed. An individual’s recovery and wellness necessitate therapy, learning new survival skills, preparation for the job market, and inclusion of family and loved ones in the process.
Lawmakers must discontinue ignoring the data. For decades, medical and clinical research has shown a social approach to drug abuse is the most promising solution. If politicians don’t believe the social scientist, perhaps they can respect their own data. America is five percent of the world population and houses 25 percent of prisoners. Bottom line: the more people we lock up, the worse the problem gets. These disenfranchised prisoners have minimal hope of becoming productive citizens and the same mentality is passed along to the prisoners’ children.
There needs to be a message given to politicians and all entities that have influence over drug decriminalization: “When you’ve lost the war, but you still believe in your cause, go back on the battlefield.” But, next time, use the appropriate war weaponry—social science artillery, clinical missiles, physicians in lieu of law enforcement and hospitals instead of prisons.
Brenda Robinson is an NNPA Emory O. Jackson award-winning columnist for Frost Illustrated.
This article originally appeared in the Oct. 2 print edition.