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.

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Losing the War

 I watched the debate last night between Kamala Harris and Mike Pence and I wasn't surprised at all about what I didn't hear.

They didn't mention anything at all, either of them, about the drug abuse that plagues our nation. It almost seemed like the only thing that was important was for each of them to play gotcha in an effort to make some points with the voters.

I can look back through my life – clear back into the 50s when I first started using drugs – and remember political candidates talking about the problem with drug addiction in our communities and across our nation. I saw presidential candidates get tough on drugs, giving longer jail terms to those selling drugs and using drugs than they did to convicted murderers.

They called it the "war on drugs." And today one can look about any city in most any state in the country and see that the war on drugs has pretty much been lost. And I say that because one can buy so-called "medical marijuana" quite easily. In fact, all one really needs is a prescription from a doctor and he can purchase the drugs almost anywhere. And in some states recreational marijuana can be purchased without a prescription.

Now marijuana was never my drug of choice. I was one of those people who got paranoia from smoking it and I had a whole bunch of other things I'd rather use before marijuana. But where I'm going with all of this is I see a softening in the legal system and in the public toward the use of what used to be considered a drug that was very dangerous. And now I think the only danger with the drug is what it does to our lungs and what happens when people drive under the influence of marijuana – something I don't think a lot of people know a lot about at this point.

Where I'm going with this is I haven't heard much during this presidential campaign year about what anybody's going to do different about opioids, heroin, cocaine, methamphetamines and the other drugs that are devastating our communities. And the reality is that there's not much they can do, except arrest people and put them in prison until they get out and start all over. There's been absolutely nothing innovative done about dealing with people who use drugs like the ones I mentioned in the beginning of this paragraph. And the reality, which is right under our nose if we just choose to pay attention to it, is there is already de facto legalization all over this country. And I say that, because anybody with a few dollars in their pocket can walk into the right neighborhoods and take their choice of drugs home with them. Or else use them right there at the dope house where they got it.

Now other countries are smarter than we are. For example, in Bern, Switzerland, a heroin addict can get his supply free from the state. Not only does he get free heroin, the state provides him with a check every month so that he can support himself, a facility where he can get his daily dose and use it right there on the spot. And this occurred because merchants in the city were tired of addicts stealing their merchandise to trade for heroin. They went to the legislature and asked them to craft regulations that would allow addicts to use heroin under certain restrictions, an action that pretty much satisfied everyone. The last statistics show that the prison population went down, crime went down, and the transmission of AIDS went down from addicts sharing needles. And the interesting part is that after six years of legal use, many of the addicts decide to wean themselves off of the drug and go on to a more productive life. 

But our country has some kind of twisted moral objection to this idea of allowing addicts to use drugs. Instead of giving addicts free drugs in an environment where could be monitored and where they could receive medical attention if they overdosed, where they can be taught how to use drugs safely we would rather punish them for what the medical community has characterized as a disease. Countries all over Europe, such as Portugal. have adopted the model of legalizing all drugs because they realize that there is not much likelihood that they're going to be able to stop drugs by declaring war on them and the people who use them.

Maybe someday our country will get over this stupid idea that legalizing drugs will mean everyone uses  them. And ask their state legislatures to create safe havens for addicts until they can get medical and psychological help and move on to a better life. But then again we would have to overcome the reality that law enforcement and incarceration is a big business and that legalizing drugs in order to control the drug trade probably doesn't make financial and political sense to the majority.

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