The true nature of addiction
Troy Media – by Dana Wensley
In Canada the latest records show that the cost of substance abuse is $39.8 billion, a whopping 79.3 per cent of which is attributed to abuse of legal substances like tobacco and alcohol.
If there is a drug war in Canada, it isn’t been fought out on the streets like Mexico (where the unofficial death toll is 50,000 people killed since Dec 2006 in the government’s ‘blood-soaked drug war’), but it’s a war of words. And the setting is Ottawa. On one side is the Harper government, with its proposed implementation of mandatory prison sentences for cannabis related offences (under Bill C-10). On the other, the Liberal party which voted in January to make the legalization of marijuana party policy.
Weighing into the debate recently, the Chief medical health officers of B.C., Nova Scotia, and Saskatchewan have argued, in a paper to the journal Open Medicine, in support of taxation and regulation of marijuana use – not stricter criminal repercussions for drug users. In support of their stance they cite evidence from Portugal, which has enjoyed some of the lowest rates of drug use in Europe since decriminalization occurred a decade ago.
Who do we believe? What is the answer? And how much should government policy be influenced by the changing public perception to the acceptability of the so-called ‘soft’ drugs like marijuana?
In 1992, former U.S. President Bill Clinton was labelled a hypocrite when he admitted experimenting with marijuana but ‘didn’t like it and didn’t inhale’.
In his book Dreams From My Father - published just three years later (and 14 years before he would be sworn in as President of the United States), Barak Obama wrote not only that he tried drugs, but that he had used cocaine (‘maybe a little blow’).
Obama’s public admission in 2007 to ‘inhaling frequently’ cemented his reputation for honesty and integrity, although cynics labelled his admission as a smart political move, putting him in touch with the younger generation, many of whom consider marijuana use an ‘accepted part of the culture’.
Against this background, Obama has become the ‘poster child’ for marijuana use. It’s an image that is set to sky-rocket with the release this month of a new biography that profiles Obama as not just as an occasional user but a heavy pot smoker who led his friends in exploring new ways to inhale to maximise the effect. (“Barack Obama: The Story” by David Maraniss, released for publication last week.)
Is Obama pleased with his image? Since becoming President he has remained tight-lipped about this phase of his life, leaving his wife – Michelle Obama – to respond to the interest in her husband’s past drug use. In an interview on Daily Show with Jon Stewart, she said he turned his life around after he realised he ‘could do more with his life.’
But Obama has put himself between the proverbial rock and a hard place. In doing so, he has exposed himself to the label of hypocrite on a scale that would put even Clinton’s infamous fracas over the term ‘sexual relations’ to shame.
Consider the following written statement to congress that heads the latest report of the ‘National Drug Control Strategy: 2012’ in which Obama states:
‘Young people’s perceptions of the risks of drug use have declined over the past decade, and research suggests that this often predicts future increases in drug use.’
Correct me if I’m wrong here, but when a high profile and obviously successful person like Obama admits to using drugs but apparently stops without any problems or long term affects or addiction issues, is it surprising that the younger generation has been lulled into diminishing the risks associated with illegal substances?
Let’s look at what else he has to say.
‘Illicit drug use in America contributed to an estimated $193 billion in crime, health, and lost productivity costs (Based on research figures from 2007) . . . In today’s challenging economic environment, we cannot afford such a drain on our economy and public resources.’
Do I understand him correctly? Is he saying we should care about drugs only because it costs the government money? Not because of how substance abuse affects the lives of young adolescents, families, and children who grow up in homes struggling with addiction issues?
Addiction affects people in different ways. There appears to be no ‘one size fits all’ answer. Obama is apparently one of the lucky ones who can use drugs and not be pulled into the worse affects. Others aren’t so lucky. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse in United States, marijuana (the most commonly abused illegal drug in the U.S.) not only has short term affects such as distorted perception and problem solving, but long term chronic affects on ability to learn and memory function. Chronic usage also is linked to a range of mental health problems.
Drug taking is not a moral issue. It’s not an economic issue. And it’s not just a medical issue. It’s an issue that crosses borders, that defies political boundaries, that affects the individual and society, and deserves open and honest debate. Decriminalisation alone will not work without a targeted campaign to advise the younger generation of the risks. This is not an either / or debate.
What we need is for people like Obama to stand up and admit not just to their drug taking to win votes, but to the darker side of substance abuse. This will make him unpopular with many of the younger generation who voted him in, but if he wants to address the problems he now sees with drugs he needs to stand up and be honest about how, for most, the route he took does not lead to the White House but to a penitentiary.
He comes close to this in his book, Dreams From My Father, when he mentions how near he came to going down the other route, and the affect substance abuse had on his friends who were not so lucky:
‘I blew a few smoke rings, remembering those years. Pot had helped, and booze; maybe a little blow when you can afford it. Not smack, though – Micky, my potential initiator, had been just a little too eager for me to go through with that . . . Junkie. Pothead. That’s where I’d been headed: the final, fatal role of the young would-be black man . . . Of course either way, you needed some luck. That’s what Pablo had lacked, mostly, not having his driver’s license that day, a cop with nothing better to do than to check the trunk of his car (he was arrested for drug possession). Or Bruce, not finding his way back from too many bad acid trips and winding up on a funny farm. Or Duke, not walking away from the car wreck . . .’
This is the true nature of addiction. Not Obama’s laughing admission that he ‘inhaled frequently’ but the darker side of his life at this time. I challenge anyone who reads Dreams From My Father to think otherwise.
Dana Wensley has a Ph.D. in Law from King’s College, London (England). Previously, she worked as an assistant editor at the London based Bulletin of Medical Ethics, and was senior research fellow at the University of Otago (New Zealand).