I heard an incredible statistic last week, one that makes you really stop and think. It stated that the United States has 4 percent of the world’s population, but 80 percent of the world’s opioid use! That is just mind-numbingly awful.
I also saw where Dayton, Ohio is the number one city in America from drug deaths per capita. That is just 35 miles south of us here in Darke County. This problem is not exclusive to just us, this is a nationwide epidemic. The question is what should we do about it?
The people I meet want to know what the state, the commissioners, the cities, the schools, the churches, etc., are doing to resolve this problem? That is a tough one to answer. However, the answer is what we have done since the 1960’s, throw money and programs at the problem.
For over 50 years, the United States has fought the war on drugs. We have spent trillions on drug intervention programs, education in the schools, and the D.E.A. (Drug Enforcement Agency) and countless other agencies. After all these years, all this money, and all this effort we have absolutely nothing to show for it. Why? Why have we failed so miserably? I can assure you it is not from a lack of trying on government’s part.
Governments at all levels know this is a huge problem which they have tried to fix it the only way they know how; throw more money at the problem, create more programs, and more departments to handle it. It has totally failed. The reason, I believe, for this failure is a lack of understanding of one basic truth concerning this problem: You cannot help people who refuse to help themselves.
That may sound cruel, but consider this for a moment. The drug culture of the 1960’s was a war fought extremely hard back then. People were treated as “junkies,” “hippies” and “freeloaders” if you were an addict. Police and agencies went after dealers aggressively because society did not accept the behavior.
At the time, the older generation tried to warn us of the dangers, and mostly received ridicule for it. Over time the practice of smoking marijuana, Hashish, and doing LSD became more mainstream. It became a more accepted part of America. At this time also doctors started prescribing more and more drugs for pain, leading to people becoming addicted to “legal” painkillers.
Hollywood, rock bands, Dr. Timothy Leary, the Vietnam War, and campus unrest all contributed to this acceptance. As with most addictions, once it started, the chase then becomes for the next, stronger thrill. By the 1980’s, America was already starting to see the negative effects of the use of these drugs; families torn apart, people living only for the next high, children losing parents, parents losing children, lost jobs and wages, divorces, and the government taking the responsibility to fix the problem.
In reaction to the cry of the people to fix the epidemic, the government threw the D.E.A. and other agencies at the problem, created programs, funded clinics, and stiffened laws for drug abuse. The vicious cycle, the use of harder and more dangerous drugs by people, the government reacting as always by throwing more money and programs at the problem, and the more casual acceptance of the public, continues to this day. The stigma that you are a “druggie” or a “junkie” or “loser” is no longer there. This tactic is not working.
The question then is how do we fix this? How do we as a nation get ourselves out of this mess? There is only one answer to the problem. The only one that works: addicts and users have to hit rock bottom, and take responsibility for themselves before the problem is resolved, period! They have to change, not us. We can do everything possible, and we have, to help the addicted, but if they do not want the help, nor care about themselves or anyone else, the effort, money, education, programs, and clinics will not do a damn bit of good.
A good case in point is Naloxone, or more commonly, Narcan. We have created a drug to bring users back from death when they overdose. Narcan was first authorized for use by law enforcement and emergency personnel. You can now buy it on Amazon, E-Bay, and over the counter! It was a good idea gone terribly wrong. Now, we are seeing users being saved seven, eight, nine times, often all in the same day!
Addicts, friends of addicts, and Mom and Dad users are buying it for the kids who are also users and shooting up with them, and then bringing each other back, just to do it again! This is madness! We are not helping, we are enabling! These people need to help themselves because there is nothing we can do for them. They must take responsibility for their own actions. This is the reality.
The cost in dollars and human capital is staggering, and we are seeing no positive results. It is not a good feeling when you want to help people, and you fail because they refuse to help themselves. Most of us are good citizens, and neighbors who want the best for our families, friends, and our communities. It saddens us when a person we know goes wrong. People instinctively want to help. It is our nature. Unfortunately, we cannot help those who refuse to help themselves.
We will continue with the clinics, programs, drug enforcement, and other assistance for those who need them. However, the only way the drug problem is truly resolved is by the users and addicts themselves who finally decide enough is enough. We can, and will, help them, but addicts that never reach that conclusion, sadly, are lost no matter what we do.
Mike Stegall is a Darke County Commissioner. He can be reached at MStegall@co.darke.oh.us. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.