Jason Davis: Sadly, drug problem is not going away

Mar. 24, 2014 @ 06:34 AM

As I wrote today’s editorial, I felt an overwhelming sadness.

It’s not because I’ll likely soon have to get a prescription for Sudafed — a cold and sinus medication I use for treatment of what we East Tennesseans like to call “sinuses.” I’m already used to feeling like a criminal when I approach the pharmacy counter to request a box, only to get the suspicious eye of the pharmacy tech.

What made me sad was the growing realization that so many Tennesseans turn to chemicals, like meth, as an escape from their daily lives. Every day in the arrest reports we see name after name of citizens now involved in the criminal justice system because of some such issue — busted for DUI, possession of marijuana, meth or another drug or for selling the illicit substances.

Fortunately, I’ve never directly experienced a close family member suffering in the grips of drugs and alcohol. But I have seen friends and associates — often genuinely good people — affected.

More often than not, there’s something going on behind the scenes that pushes a person to using. A broken home life, job difficulties, the sorrow over the loss of a loved one or the self-medication of a mental disorder are often primary causes. No one wakes up one morning and thinks, “I’ve always wanted to be an alcoholic” or “I think I’ll become an addict today.”

The older I’ve gotten I’ve also begun to realize that laws designed to stop drug abuse, no matter how well-intentioned, usually don’t work. The drive of an addict is stronger than the fear of being caught.

Figuring out a way to effectively battle rampant substance abuse has proven nearly impossible.

We’ve thrown billions, if not trillions, of dollars at the problem in the last half-century or so, yet the problems have only increased. It’s depressing.

My generation, which grew up in the time when anti-drug literature was handed out in schools nearly as often as worksheets, seems to be among the most drug dependent.

How do we stem the tide? It doesn’t seem like harsher penalties are the answer — there are more people in jail or prison right now for drug offenses than ever in our country’s history, yet there’s no end in sight.

The United States has the highest documented incarceration rate in the world, at 754 people per 100,000, according to a published report from the International Centre for Prison Studies.

I’m not saying imprisoning people for drug offenses is wrong-minded, I’m just stating the facts.

Where we go from here, I don’t know.

There are smarter people out there to figure such things out.

I’m not for the decriminalization of drugs, but perhaps a similar model to what’s been used to limit tobacco use could be successful. We all know about the addictive properties of nicotine, yet somehow smoking by Americans has fallen markedly in last few decades.

Whether it’s the publicity given to the associated health risks, the increased cost or the public stigma, people have been putting out their butts and dropping the habit for years now. Whoever’s led that campaign has done something right, and no one had to go to jail. Let’s sign them up to help the U.S. kick its drug problem.

I’m being somewhat facetious, of course. Drug abuse will never go away entirely, just as a society without sin is impossible. Humans have been doing it for thousands of years, and it’s a part of people having free will. 

Minimizing people’s desire to escape reality, and the impact of such behavior, should be a goal. Finding the way to get there is the key.