The US government and media has spoken about drug abuse for decades. Constantly seeking one influence or another to blame. Migrants, minorities, drug companies, etc.
The biggest problem with nearly any discussion on drug abuse is that the root cause of drug abuse is too often ignored, downplayed or completely omitted.
While we are seeing a massive increase in opiate addiction and overdose, this is not the first instance of this in US history. Prior to the creation of government agencies to regulate drug use, opiates were common and sold over the counter. Morphine, codeine and other opiates were in everyday medications like cough suppressants. At one time, Coca-Cola contained cocaine, derived from leaves from the coca tree, hence the name of the most popular soda in world history. 7-Up once contained Lithium, which is now used as a psychiatric medication used to treat manic disorders and allegedly acts as a mood stabilizer. Today, the US comprises 5% of the world population yet accounts for 80% of global opiate consumption.
At the same time we are seeing an increase in opiate use/addiction/overdose, the US also has seen an increase in antidepressant use since 1999. Benzodiazepines such as Valium, Xanax or Ativan saw prescriptions roughly double between 2003 and 2015, that most recent data compiled which I saw in a cursory search.
In addition to opiate use, the rising trend seen in illegal drug trade is bath salts. Bath salts act as a dopamine reuptake inhibitor, causing elevated mood in the user.
Whether we are talking about legal or illegal drugs, alcohol, bath salts, opiates or antidepressants, the same trend becomes evident. Each of these substances has specific similar effects, meaning decreased anxiety/elevated mood. To be clear, increased dopamine production or slowing the reuptake of dopamine, results in a similar response. Dopamine is the “feel good” hormone produced by the brain.
So, the question is, why are we seeing a desire for chemicals to improve our mood? Some like to claim it is a matter of privilege. Yet they cannot then explain why drug use and addiction are either constant across income levels or worse among the least privileged in society. Or why countries with higher income levels do not have higher rates of use and addiction. In general, why has addiction become more common in the past few decades in the US, while income levels have remained stagnant? Why do drug and alcohol use increase during times of severe economic downturn?
There have been studies on antidepressant use among younger Americans which show clearly that their depression is very real, for very real reasons which pills cannot cure. The same reasons apply to all forms of drug use and abuse.
Here is a short list of reasons we are seeing chemical use rise in the US-
This country has been at war for 18 continuous years. Many younger Americans see family members and friends enroll in the military due to lack of other opportunities. Those family members and friends change, become different people. Then they may not come back or come back injured, damaged physically and/or emotionally. Young people who do not enroll have a very real fear of a draft being enacted at some point. That fear has a very rational basis.
From young to old, we see people struggling to make ends meet. Many working multiple jobs. Younger people are staying at home much longer than previous generations and it is all due to financial reasons.
The price of education has skyrocketed far beyond the rate of inflation, leaving millions with student loan debt for decades, along with the associated interest. Defaults on student loans are the highest they have been in the history of this country. Meanwhile, many who are graduating are unable to find employment in their chosen careers, even when their degrees are in business management, accounting or vocational occupations. Which leaves them earning low salaries with high levels of debt.
Vehicle loans are seeing high numbers of defaults, with the average car payment today being over $500 a month. Or a person has the choice of spending many hours every day on the worst public transportation system of any first world country. Imagine doing that when you have children. Or maybe you don’t have to imagine it. You may be reading this while riding the bus, for all I know.
There is the constant fear of mass shootings, either in schools, churches, theaters, malls, night clubs. Meanwhile our CONgress remains in the pocket of the NRA, refusing to take meaningful action. If the same number of people died every year from an illness or certain class of vehicle as from assault weapons, we would have large sums of money thrown at it and the banning of that class of vehicle entirely.
Anyone being pulled over by police has no idea if evidence will be planted on them or in their vehicle. Road side drug tests are proven to be unreliable and are inadmissible in court, yet you can be held in jail for days before a more valid forensic test proves your innocence and even that will not help if a dirty officer plants evidence. Of course, you also have the chance of being shot while reaching for your wallet.
Racism is rampant. People of color fear being victims of hate crimes just walking or driving. Or being shot by police for the crime of not being white.
Women fear being physically and/or sexually assaulted. Men fear being accused of things they’re actually not guilty of.
People are afraid to speak to each other. Period.
Like I said, this is a short list of reasons we are seeing such an epidemic of mind-altering chemical use and abuse. Yet the discussion regarding those chemicals, the root causes for the prevalence of their use is rarely discussed. The media and government steadfastly refuse to discuss the issues leading to the problem because doing so would result in lower profits for major advertisers and donors, such as drug companies, for-profit prisons and weapons manufacturers selling to police departments. They all want to continue the failed war on drugs which has raged on for nearly 50 years and only escalated with the results being what we see today.
If we want to see a change, we have to change the approach. Up to now, it has been doing the same thing every single year and expecting different results. So it is up to us to insist on the discussion to change topics. That real problems be addressed, that new solutions be enacted. Too many lives have been destroyed by the current approach. If we don’t absolutely demand that things change, millions more lives will be destroyed.
We have no idea how many innocent people have had their lives and the lives of their families torn apart by planted evidence. Even if guilty of possession of drugs, does that alone warrant paying for it for the rest of your life?
The war on drugs to date has cost us uncounted trillions of dollars. Mock hearings, millions of people in prison, families on public assistance where they were not before, children and innocent adults caught in the crossfire, decimated careers, psychological therapy for any number of related issues and militarized police all cost us every day of our lives in ways we can never account for financially or emotionally.
The ultimate truth about our drug problem is that it leads to many other problems which are far more costly on every level. It is caused by other problems which are too often ignored or viewed separately. We will never solve the drug problem unless we address the problems which lead to it. We will never stop the problems it leads to unless we solve the drug problem.
In other words, drugs are not the problem, they are a symptom of the real problem. The real problem is capitalism. Does that mean we would have no drug problem if we lived in a Socialist society? No. It means we would address the drug problem in far different ways, ways which preserved society instead of ripping it apart. The only reason we are not doing so right now is because of the profit motive of those truly in charge of our society. If we discuss ways to reduce the cost of any problem, capitalists instantly think, “But we’ll make less money!”
If we talk about treating addiction as an illness using a nationalized treatment program, they scream, “But who will pay for it?!” We would. We would pay far less than we do now in every way. We would have more money, more freedom, less violence, less crime, less depression, less anxiety, less anger, less paranoia, fewer suicides, fewer guns, fewer families ripped apart, fewer absent parents, less racism, lower medical costs of treating poisoned chemicals made in garages in other countries…
In the end, we need to wage war against the war on drugs.
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