Talking with a drug counselor and activist who has a different view on addiction than many:
Here is how we are dealing with drug addiction. If it is legal, we mostly ignore it. This covers sugar, caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco. Also marijuana in some jurisdictions, and of course our favorite prescriptions.
If it is illegal, even if it reaches epic proportions and we can see with our own eyes dealing on street corners, addicts passed out or begging, and the consequences of drug addiction in the courts and emergency rooms, we tend to follow this checklist:
Deny. Deny that it is “that bad.” Deny that real people, like us and our loved ones, are using or getting caught up in addictions. Deny, deny, deny.
Blame Victims. Those users are just losers. Weak. Not like us. Bad homes. Bad values. No willpower. Not. Like. Us.
Isolate. They are out there. We are in here. We are clean and good. They are clearly not. This means they kind of deserve what they are going through. We try harder. We deserve more. We are separate.
Normalize. There have always been addicts. There always will be. We really don’t need to do anything. It’s not going to help anyway.
Neutralize. Homelessness and addiction are just problems somewhere else, that I can get away from when I get onto my own property. Addicts may be wandering the streets, and sleeping in doorways, but they are mostly staying on land between public and private, such as churches and parks. They are not in my space, I don’t want to go to theirs.
Sanitize. Drug addicts can live in our nice homeless encampments now. We even have “wet” encampments, where they can drink and drug and use Sani-cans and have showers. It is not that bad, and there is not that much suffering now, right? They can clean up and sell us our Homeless Newspaper and everything is fine. We have solved it, pretty much. That mess has been cleaned up.
Hide. Addiction? Drugs? Homelessness? Dealing? Begging? Stealing? Predators taking advantage of vulnerable addicts? Suffering and dying? Sure, it happens, but I don’t have to see it. Some losers in a broken down camper or under a bridge – what do I care? I am safe in here, in my cozy hiding place.
And all the above checks on the typical checklist lead to constant triage – going from one emergency to another. Ambulances for heroin overdoses. Prison sentences for PCP-laced marijuana. Residential burglaries to try and feed Oxycontin addictions after a legal prescription runs out. Families who have to decide whether to cut off a beloved relative or keep fueling their addiction.
Yes, it is pervasive. Yes, it is real. Yes, it affects almost all of us, even if we deny this, and hide, and ignore, and excuse, and justify.
And the drug counselor asks me, asks us: Are we going to get brave enough to lift our heads and look at this?