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FIRST-PERSON: Heralded ‘war on drugs’ leads public astray

DURHAM, N.C. (BP)–Leaders in today’s “war on drugs” have placed their major emphases on interdiction efforts and stiff punishments for those who produce, smuggle or sell illegal substances. A lesser degree of attention has been paid to certain prescribed prevention and treatment efforts. Public opinion has been mobilized to insure the continuation of these somewhat questionable but noble-appearing efforts. In order to justify this current agenda of action, our leadership has perpetuated several misconceptions designed to hold at bay those who ordinarily might question a course that thus far has offered no real proof of permanent success.

We will examine six of these misconceptions and the truth about them this month and six more in our September column.

MISCONCEPTION #1: Advocates for the “war on drugs” define their efforts in military terms and the enemy as the terrifying substances that produce havoc and death.

THE TRUTH: The term “war on drugs” is completely misleading. The drugs themselves, whether legal or illegal, are not the culprits until they are used. President George W. Bush once told us about a meeting with Mexican authorities while he served as governor of Texas. “I had gone to meet with the Mexican leaders to urge them to use stronger tactics against smugglers of illegal drugs into the United States,” he explained. “They finally responded that they would intensify their efforts if we would do something about the large number of customers on our side of the border who demand the banned substances.”

As long as the general public desires such substances, there will be more supplies to replace the shipments which we have interrupted, and more drug dealers and smugglers to take the place of those whom we lock up. Therefore, our current plan of action will continue to offer no promise of hope for rescue from this dilemma.

MISCONCEPTION #2: The slogan “war on drugs” has proven popular because it idealizes the notion that the drug abuse problem belongs to “them” and not to “us.”

THE TRUTH: It has become easier and easier for the average citizen to say a hearty “amen” to any such effort that would rid society of this dark problem. During the 1960s and ’70s, the public envisioned drug abusers as those who frequented the dark alleys and abandoned buildings in such cities as New York and Chicago. Today we have come to realize that the drug problem knows no boundaries — racial, economic, geographic or religious.

The potential for this dark tragedy stalks every family. It is certainly “our” problem!

MISCONCEPTION #3: Illegal drugs are far more dangerous and addictive than the legal behavior-altering substances.

THE TRUTH: While illegal substances such as heroin, methamphetamine and designer drugs destroy lives every day, the alcohol problem is considered by many to be our number one drug problem. Most medical authorities consider an addiction to alcoholic beverages to be one of the most difficult to break. No one can reasonably argue that the abuse of such drugs as anti-depressants, tranquilizers and painkillers does not constitute a major part of our growing legal medicine problem.

A stamp of legality on these substances does not remove the potential for disaster. How often do supposedly educated people refer to “drugs and alcohol”? Certainly any substance that alters the way we think, act or feel must be considered a drug. The hypocrisy of our divided approach to the drug problem is obvious to any thoughtful individual.

MISCONCEPTION #4: Most commonly used slogans and buzzwords associated with the drug problem and its solution are negative: for example, “war against drugs” (or drug abuse). This method is used to clearly identify an enemy of society.

THE TRUTH: It is usually easier and more popular for the public to be against an evil than for good. The best method of relief for the problem would be the public adoption of a better way of life than drug abuse. However, this is often unpopular because it demands so much of the individual.

MISCONCEPTION #5: The leaders of such efforts constantly remind us that the more money we spend, the better the opportunity for eventual relief from this problem.

THE TRUTH: A successful solution does not require more bureaucracies, the building of more prisons, the hiring of more law enforcement officers, the perpetuation of “feel good” educational programs, and the enactment of stronger laws, even though these actions may provide a temporary sense of relief.

Instead it demands the changing of the hearts of men and women. We must embrace the concept that sobriety and self-control help lead to success, happiness and inner peace.

MISCONCEPTION #6: Treatment experts have long insisted that drug addiction is a disease and should be treated medically.

THE TRUTH: While the minds and bodies of addicted individuals may eventually become diseased because of the sad habit, the vast majority of such persons made the choice to take the first drug, and all such addicted persons must eventually make the choice to become free if wellness is to be achieved.

There was certainly nothing in the body or mind of the individual that cried out before the initial choice, “You’re doomed to become a drug addict.” There certainly may exist a weakness in individual makeup that makes it easier to become addicted after the first decision. The “disease” label is just another excuse for irresponsible behavior.
Ted G. Stone and Philip Barber are coauthors of two books on alcohol and drug abuse, “The Drug Tragedy — Hope for the One Who Hurts” and “The Drug Tragedy — Hope for the One Who Cares,” both available from LifeWay Christian Stores.

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  • Ted G. Stone & Philip D. Barber