Recovery Connections

John Schwary is CEO of Transitional Living Communities, an 900-bed recovery program he founded in Mesa, Arizona January 9, 1992, when he had a year sober. He's in his 30th year of recovery.

In these posts, he views life mostly through the lenses of recovery. While the blog is factual, he often disguises events and people to protect anonymity.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Legalize drugs?

If I gave you a handful of $20 bills – or even less – and told you to go buy me some drugs in the next 30 minutes I'm pretty sure you'd be able to do that. After all, drugs are available in all of our communities today.

All one need is to have a bit of cash or something of value to trade and he or she will return with their drug of choice. Now I know that sounds strange coming from someone who's been running a recovery business for nearly 30 years, but the reality is that I speak truth.

And the reason I bring the subject up today is that our society somehow has the ridiculous idea that tougher laws and longer prison terms will somehow slow down drug use. Or stop it altogether.

But the reality is that there is no kind of punishment that will keep people from using drugs. There are countries, like the Philippines, Singapore, and some Middle Eastern countries where getting caught using drugs could bring the death penalty. The point is, that tough doesn't work. They still have drug problems in those areas.

When I was a teenager some 65 years ago the government began what they call "a war on drugs." I think it might've been Richard Nixon who initiated the first battle cry. But the interesting thing is that nothing has changed: in fact drug abuse has gone up in some areas and more deadly drugs are being sold than ever before – specifically in the opioid family.

So, you might ask, do I advocate that we legalize drug use? And I think that my answer is going to be yes. After all there are countries in Europe, and cities in Canada where heroin use is sanctioned and monitored by the government. And the amazing thing that has been discovered is that drug use has gone down. AIDS transmission is going down. The crime rate has gone down.

In Bern, Switzerland the merchants – who were fed up with addicts stealing from their businesses – went to the government and asked them to provide free heroin to drug addicts, give them a place to use it, and a welfare check so they wouldn't have to be living on the streets. And they discovered that after about six years those enrolled in the drug program began withdrawing from opiates and many quit altogether. They also discovered that many teenagers who might have once been attracted to the drugs no longer found them interesting. They began to look at heroin addicts who were in the government program as a bunch of sick people who sat around all day nodding out and doing nothing much productive with their lives.

The reality is, that we have made zero progress in the war on drugs. Isn't it time we began experimenting with a different approach?

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