Fighting drug addiction in the United States

The War Wagesthum1

When we hear of the “War on Drugs,” we are likely to think of heavily armed DEA agents raiding a sophisticated secret meth lab, or a battalion of Los Federales (Mexican Federal Police) in armored attack vehicles and face masks (to protect their identities) battling an equally well-equipped drug cartel, or a Coast Guard patrol narrowly intercepting a shipment of Asian heroin. And while all that may be true, the subject of harrowing human drama, and the basis for countless unrealistic cop shows – the fact remains that these episodes are only one part of the fight against drugs. In truth, the efforts to stop the supply of drugs – although noble and for the most part well-intentioned – will not ultimately succeed unless one slows or halts the demand.

Witness the rise of prescription drug abuse in the United States, now responsible for the number of drug-related deaths surpassing traffic fatalities. Or the manner in which opioid painkiller abuse and heroin addiction now fuel each other – with prescription pill addicts switching to heroin and vice-versa. No, no matter how many shot guns, Kevlar vests, prosecutions, investigations of corruption, and prison sentences, the only way to fight drug abuse for the long haul is to pull it up by its roots through a definitive curbing of demand. To the cynic, it’s way too late. But in a wholly practical sense, fighting drug abuse consists of several major steps:

The Two Phases of Drug Rehabilitation

A large number of drugs create physical dependence and addiction. Examples are: opiates like morphine and heroin; synthetic opioid painkillers like Vicodin, Percocet, and OxyContin; and psychotropic drugs like Xanax, Klonopin, and Halcion. Another drug that creates severe physical dependence is alcohol. Any of these drugs – and many others – are associated with withdrawal symptom. This means that when an individual who is dependent or addicted tries to abruptly quit, he or she can experience not only uncontrollable cravings, but nausea, vomiting, flu-like symptoms, insomnia, hallucinations, erratic or hostile behavior, and seizure – to name just a few. They can also go into a coma or die. That is why medical detoxification is vital.

Medical detox indicates a series of procedures geared towards bringing a person out of addiction through proper doses of medically-prescribed drugs with the utmost concern for the patient’s comfort and safety. An out-patient methadone clinic does not accomplish comprehensive medical detox since the heroin addict is simply given a cup of methadone to drink each day, and is generally considered to be only slightly better off than using heroin – the advantages being that they do not inject methadone and the dosage is controlled, compared to heroin which is obtained on the street. Despite this, methadone is considered more addictive than heroin. In-patient medical detox, on the other hand, is much more thorough in providing a safe journey for a recovering addict or alcoholic.

The next phase of rehabilitation is to address the root causes of addiction, which are not just physical. Many psychological and even spiritual factors were at work that lead to and prolong a person’s addiction. A statement that “we can make you drug-free in 30 days” is a dubious claim. Factually, no one can really say how long it will take for someone to go through rehab and get the proper result. Ideally, a rehab facility would be result-oriented and open-ended. Quite a few centers employ the Twelve Step program affiliated with Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. In this system, usually in a group setting or with a sponsor, the addict or alcoholic admits to his or her powerlessness as regards their addiction, while acknowledging a higher power as being their only recourse. They also take steps to make amends to the people they have wronged.

Another approach that is gaining momentum could be described as the holistic system. Holistic rehabilitation maintains that drug addiction is highly individual in nature and that the best way to deal with the many factors at work in an addict’s life is to offer multiple methodologies under one roof. An example of this would be offering not just The Twelve Step program, but many faith-based programs based on a large number of denominations. Other programs that could be available in a holistic center: Life-skills and vocational training, cognitive behavioral therapy, physical therapy, fitness training, martial arts, Eastern or alternative medicine, and more.  A holistic center could have a core series of steps as well as a wide array of optional programs.

Drug Education and Alternatives to Drug Usethum2

A primary way to fight drug abuse in society is to educate youth. The “Just Say No” campaign is one method but is highly limited as it does not necessarily state WHY a child would say “no.” The most effective drug education is a detailed curriculum that describes all the various illicit and prescription drugs, what they consist of, how they’re made, their street and slang names, and what they do to the body and mind. Youth must also be taught that the dealers, pushers, and their peers will lie to them (intentionally or unintentionally) in an attempt to get them to try drugs and get hooked. They must learn what the lies are and learn the truth. It is true that some segment will use drugs. But many more will not; when they are enlightened, they are far more likely to make the educated, sensible decision.

Along with drug education should be orientation as to the alternatives to drug use. Sports, the arts, music, careers, activities which do not destroy the mind or body – these things must be shown to youth. Ultimately, they will be the ones determining the course of their lives. They must be given opportunities and guidance, and the role of teachers and parents should not be underestimated.

The Fight Continues

The fight against drugs is not one single thing. It is a combination of efforts. Often, it comes down to the work of individuals and small groups of people who have seen too much ruin and have had enough. Concerned citizens can help with drug education for youth and in the rehab field. Law enforcement is usually more than happy to work with civic groups because it can only make their jobs easier. While police and governments work to cut supply, our effort to cut demand is ultimately accomplished through effective education and rehabilitation. 

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