New approach needed for failed ‘war on drugs’
July 9, 2014
How do we win the war on drugs? This question provides political platforms for individuals seeking office. The "war on drugs" is being waged from the inner-city to rural America.
Our community leaders hold meetings to discuss "drug problems" in the community. Public questionnaires list drugs as a major problem facing our families.
One teenager addicted to any drug affects the entire family. As the addiction grows, it affects the neighborhood and extended family. The problem ends up in criminal court, community programs and eventually incarceration.
Imagine reducing the dollars — badly needed dollars — spent on drug addicted persons without cutting anyone from their treatment programs. I am talking about a new, innovative, approach to prevention.
Our program coordinators sit in court and watch as program participants “share” their week with the judge. The next week we read about the same “participants” in the police blotter and wonder why they aren’t in prison.
As a society we talk about drug abuse and throw dollars at programs that are, objectively, not successful. Our program coordinators sit in court and watch as program participants "share" their week with the judge. The next week we read about the same "participants" in the police blotter and wonder why they aren't in prison.
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During my career, I saw the same people being arrested again and again. I have scars on my body from having to fight some of them. It seemed like the blink of an eye until their children and grandchildren were drug addicts, too.
We can argue all day long about why these unfortunate ones are where they are and what brought them to their addictions. Notice that I used the word addictions and not addiction? Years ago I attended a training course designed to teach deputies how to investigate illegal drug use. The instructor explained how 80 percent of drug users are poly-users, i.e., use multiple drugs.
In 2006 I received a questionnaire from some university (I have forgotten which one). The questionnaire dealt with "drug diversion." Diversion was not some new treatment program. It is "pharmaceuticals" being diverted. I passed it on to another detective.
I began to encounter young people who were addicted to prescription drugs. The strongest of these drugs are synthetic opiates. Some would speak freely about addiction.
The place most of them turned to was mom and dad's liquor cabinet and medicine cabinet. Oh wow … could I be alluding to alcohol as a gateway drug? No … I am saying, right out front to God and country, alcohol is the gateway drug! The medicine cabinet supplements the liquor but becomes "just as important" if not more important.
I have spoken to young people who talked about how easy it is to get pharmaceuticals. They can get drugs at school, the park and the Internet. One young man explained how he realized heroine was cheaper, easier to get and gave a better high.
The young person went from liquor to pharmaceuticals, to what society considers being an ugly, heinous drug, i.e. heroin. Next, we have another generation of drug addicted Americans. We will throw dollars at unsuccessful rehabilitation when we could have prevented this cycle in the first place.
For me to lean away from enforcement toward a new paradigm took careful consideration. Let's try this model on for size: Teaching!
Once a person has been identified as an addict, we begin to teach them how to not be an addict … No, wait; once an addict, always an addict. Part of the recovery is teaching them how horrible drugs are and to recognize pain and damage caused to others. How about we educate them before they have a chance to injure society?
We have an excellent educational system with a rapt audience. We have teachers who love to teach. I say, "Turn 'em loose to teach." I'm not talking about one seminar in the multipurpose room where a cop scares kids by showing the "faces of meth." I'm talking about a separate curriculum just like reading, writing and arithmetic. We already have the environment in which to teach our kids about drug abuse and addiction, just like we teach them about any other subject. Let's be ahead of the curve and create a new model.
A mandatory curriculum with "age appropriate" material should be used each day. Wouldn't you prefer that kids learn the truth from educators as opposed to someone on the street? As children advance to higher grades, time spent and material covered increases in duration and difficulty.
Didn't Einstein define insanity as doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different result? We can continue to pour billions of dollars into this failed war on drugs or maybe change the model slightly in an attempt to achieve a better result.
Christopher Sharp lives in Grass Valley.