One of the great failures in America's "War on Drugs" has been our repeated inability to recognize the scope of the problem. Many times over, we have realized only too late that drug abuse strikes closer to our own lives than we thought possible.
A Failed Effort
The few brave individuals who dared to discuss America's drug problem twenty-five years ago discovered that their opinions often fell on deaf ears. Indifference swelled from the notion that the "War on Drugs" belonged to that vocal minority, and not to everyone.
Then crime statistics grew rapidly, masses of people fell prey to painful drug addictions, and a cry went up from respectable citizens for relief from the growing dilemma.
Still, to many Americans it seemed a dirty business, far removed from the mainstream of a law-abiding society.
The government sought to remedy the drug curse with interdiction efforts. The plan called for locking up drug dealers and drug users. After all, they were violators of the law and had to be removed from the streets. At this early stage there was no move to consider legal drug abuse as a part of the enormous problem. The glaring headlines proclaiming success after success of the government strategy brought momentary respite to a public still largely oblivious to the extent of the problem.
But those public victories did not effectively stem the tide of drug abuse. For every illegal cargo intercepted, there were several more that slipped through. When law enforcement officers swept our communities clean of drug dealers, there were more lawbreakers waiting to take their places.
A few public officials began to realize that an exclusively supply-side war on drugs was not effectively solving the problem. Former Texas Governor George W. Bush related a story to Ted Stone when he visited the Governor's Austin office in 1996 during his first walk across America. "I met with a group of Mexican leaders recently," said Bush. "I mentioned my concern over the huge amount of illegal drugs being smuggled over the border from their country. They finally agreed that it was a matter that their country should address. Then one of them tendered a reciprocal request, 'Governor, we'll work on the smugglers. Can we count on you and your country to do something about the steady stream of customers on your side of the border who keep the smugglers in business?'" Governor Bush agreed with Ted that as long as the demand existed, there would remain a never-ending supply of drugs and dealers.
Most of polite society still labored to keep the truth about a growing list of family members who had become drug abusers under wraps, but the media began to spew out a stream of news accounts about the tragic demise of sports and entertainment stars who had become entangled in the drug scene. School administrators reluctantly admitted that the academic setting was the one place that young people could be captive audiences to the truth about the drug problem. Drug abuse prevention programs became the order of the day, some beneficial and others utter failures.
The Legal Drug Nightmare
As the "War on Drugs" progressed to the 21st century, it was easy enough for the majority to join in spirit, if not in deed. After all, the chief culprits were illegal substances and those who chose the criminal path. Many Americans, however, failed to recognize that the drug problem extended beyond illegal substances.
The social or moderate use of alcoholic beverages had become acceptable to most of the public whose memories of prohibition were chiefly rotgut whiskey and the criminal underworld. Few were daring to call alcohol a drug, much less consider it a part of the drug problem. But the rise in teenage drinking brought new attention to this matter. We rarely find a family that has not been touched by this dark problem.
There are still those, however, who would deny that alcohol abuse is part of this national tragedy. On the third walk across America we paused at the Anheuser-Busch Company, manufacturers of Budweiser beers, in St. Louis. We humbly asked this huge business to consider changing its advertising practices, namely the use of comedic characters in television commercials because we believe that such advertisements have a direct appeal to our children.
An officer of the corporation responded days later, "… comparing alcohol to drugs does nothing to address the issues of either alcohol abuse or illicit drug use. Moreover, it sends a false and dangerous message."
The official continued, "In the first place, alcohol — when consumed by adults — is legal, narcotics are not. There is a difference between a responsible adult enjoying a cold beer on a hot afternoon and an addict sitting in an abandoned building shooting up heroin."
We would remind this company that legality does not remove pain or death from the process. As one recovered young lady explained, "You don't have to be an alcoholic to have an alcohol problem."
There is much more to the story of legal drug abuse. There is an obvious feeling in this nation that there is a pill or substance that will cure every unpleasant feeling and solve every difficult problem. It has become almost criminal to experience pain in our "feel good" society. We need to understand that often an individual must experience some degree of hurt as a part of the healing process. Often intense struggles are necessary for difficulties to be resolved. While any intelligent person recognizes that medicines are necessary and truly helpful under certain circumstances, we must be careful to avoid the temptations to allow these substances to become unnecessary crutches.
Everyone should occasionally analyze the contents of the medicine cabinet. Are these substances intended to cure diseases, or have we purchased them to cover up undesirable symptoms? So many household products and over-the-counter medications can open doors to disaster for our children and for adults too.
The Church: Slow To Respond
Initially, the religious community remained relatively quiet on the drug problem. The faithful preferred not to venture into a field in which they had little expertise. Yet even that uninformed barrier among Christians would topple as more and more of the church's own were identified as victims. The following story illustrates the disastrous results when Christians fail to address the reality of drug problems in our own churches.
Stan Emory grew up in a respected, church-attending family. His father confronted the young man when he discovered his son using marijuana. But the caring parent was soon convinced that his son's fall had been a natural part of growing pains. Stan's improved classroom behavior in his senior year seemed indicative that the young man was on track again.
Then the teenager disappeared. A few days later his bullet-riddled body was discovered in a shallow, crudely dug grave. Two friends had allegedly killed him in a dispute over drugs that Stan had sold them.
The grief-stricken father confided to Ted at the gravesite, "If I could just go back and have another opportunity to talk with my son about his problem, I would listen more to what he had to say. But I'll never have that opportunity!
"If I could go back and die in my son's place, I'd gladly do that," Bryant Emory exclaimed in anguish. But the opportunity was lost, and the saddened man knew it. "Please tell everyone who hears your messages about this terrible thing that has happened to Stan and to our family. I don't want it to happen to anyone else!" The saddened father turned and walked away. He had learned first hand the tragic lesson that the drug problem could breach even church walls.
Tragically, this story could be retold in churches across the nation. As we've entered the 21st century, the list of deadly illicit toys has continued to multiply. Stimulants, hallucinogens, and depressants all bear names familiar to the anxious public — and the church has finally begun to wake up.
A Measure Of Hope
The drug problem may be far greater today than we could have ever imagined – and it is certainly our problem. While a frustrated public grasps for hope in a failed "War on Drugs," it is the duty and privilege of enlightened Christians to present the encouraging alternatives. There is a better way! If we, as Christians, are equipped with a fuller understanding of the true nature of drug abuse and its causes, and if we are ready to assume our rightful roles as messengers of hope, then we can start down the road to ultimate success. Of course, that victory will only be possible if the hearts of men and women are changed. Yes, indeed, Jesus is the answer to America's drug problem!
Dangerous Play Toys
Note: Some of these substances are illegal; others are legal. Legality does not remove the dangers of physical or mental harm, or even death.
Marijuana – There is a deceptive initial euphoria for the user. Prolonged usage can result in the dulling of mental prowess, particularly motivation, concentration, and memory.
Cocaine – This powerful stimulant is highly addictive. Injecting or smoking this drug will produce an instant rush and may lead to overdose. The impact of this drug on the circulatory system, particularly the heart, can be devastating.
Heroin – The user of this addictive painkiller receives an intense lethargic euphoria when injected. However, equally intense painful withdrawal symptoms occur. Because the junkie (regular user) ordinarily has inadequate knowledge of the strength of the dose, the risk of fatal overdose exists, as it does also with cocaine.
Methamphetamine – Speed is a stimulant with a powerful high that, unlike cocaine's short-lived experience, can last for hours, or even days. Nervousness, talkativeness, and loss of inhibition are early symptoms, while prolonged usage may result in paranoia, delusion, and violence.
L.S.D. (acid) or P.C.P. (angel dust) – These are dangerous hallucinogenic drugs that sometimes cause severe mental damage, producing irrational behavior that may lead to suicide or violence. Flashbacks (return drug experiences long after usage of the substance) may occur.
Inhalants – The sniffing or huffing of household and business products, often by very young children and teenagers, has led to extreme mental damage or to death. The deceptive early rush, buzz, or high from glue, spray paint, or freon fumes entice many to this extremely dangerous habit which can result in respiratory failure.
Designer Drugs – Popular club drugs such as Ecstasy and the date-rape substances have flooded the market. Ecstasy combines stimulant and hallucinogenic properties, sometimes resulting in long-term brain damage and other side effects attributed to the amphetamine (speed) family, including nervousness, grinding of the teeth, violence, and paranoia. The most significant immediate danger of narcotic designer drugs is respiratory depression, which can be deadly.
Alcoholic Beverages – Alcohol is the most abused drug in this nation. This depressant is highly addictive. The loss of physical and mental control becomes evident during drunkenness. Violent, abusive behavior and blackouts are often symptoms of heavy drinking. Addiction to this drug is one of the most difficult addictions to break.
Prescribed Medicines – While some medicines are necessary to preserve good health and to cure diseases, so many mood-altering drugs are routinely abused and used as unnecessary crutches. Medicines should be prescribed for the sick, not the healthy. Painkillers, tranquilizers, anti-anxiety medications, barbiturates, and anti-depressants are often abused despite the high potential for addiction and/or overdose. Attention-deficit disorder medications have become, for many parents, a convenient way of controlling the growing up pains of children. Be aware of the potential long-term negative side effects.
Over-the-counter Medications – Often inexpensive medications available legally without prescription are piled high near convenience store cash registers. The popularity of these substances among the young and healthy customers is clear evidence that they are not sold for medical purposes. These substances exist to provide a high or buzz for the user, and often contain ephedra or other substances used in the manufacture of variations of the stimulant amphetamine. They bear enticing names such as 'mini-thins' or 'yellow jackets.'
For further information on widely abused drugs, please see chapter three, "Stockpile of Pain" in The Drug Tragedy – Hope For The One Who Cares.