I’ve been thinking about drugs this week. Actually, in my line of work, the subject of drugs comes up quite frequently. A drug/alcohol profile is part of every patient’s history and physical. Every clinic patient on narcotics is monitored carefully after signing a narcotics contract, promising, among other things, to get refills at one and only one designated pharmacy. Patients admitted to the hospital who have been known or suspected to be regular moderate to heavy alcohol users are monitored for signs of withdrawal. ER providers as well as clinic providers are always on the lookout for drug-seeking behavior. Oh yes, drugs are a big part of a medical transcriptionist’s life.
Once I get home, though, I’m faced with them again through the news. Maine is known for a low crime rate, but one of our rising statistics is illegal drug use and illegal sale of prescription narcotics. I often wonder how people know where to go to buy drugs “on the street.” If, for instance, I had a hankering to get some OxyContin, I would have no idea whom to approach. How do you tell someone is selling drugs? Do you just happen to have a friend who is addicted, and he gives you a seller’s name? Do you go by your nearest cheap motel and ask around? This under-the-radar (to me) social networking seems so complicated, it is a wonder it thrives at all. But thrive it does.
I have never been a black-and-white person; I am usually in the “gray” area. By that I mean, I am smart enough to realize that society has complicated problems that are not easily solved, and any politician who promises to quickly and easily solve them is either lying or naive. The drug culture is one of those complex problems with no simple answer. I have wondered, however, about two things.
I realize that law enforcement is trying to go after the “big” people - the pushers, the growers, the providers. All well and good. However, in any society, there is a law of supply and demand. If there were not a demand, the drug pushers would have to change their line of work. I only hear about jail times, methadone clinics, and undercover arrests. I have heard few people ask, “Why are so many people hurting?” That’s the root of the problem. As long as people need relief from emotional pain, illegal drugs will be in demand. If you have thousands of people in the United States who need relief from emotional pain, you will have thousands of growers in South America and elsewhere who see an opportunity.
Many folks have asked Ed through the years how he stopped drinking cold turkey and how he managed to stay sober since 1984. In a nutshell, he always says, “God hit me upside the head with a 2 x 4 and told me to wake up to who I really was. Once I learned why I was hurting and the inner pain was healed, I didn’t need the anesthetic any more.” He said he could have been a drug addict instead of an alcoholic, but alcohol was "my anesthetic of choice." It is interesting that he always uses the term “anesthetic” for alcohol. After all, in the old days they used to have patients get drunk so they could operate with less pain. Anesthetic numbs feelings - physical and emotional. Of course, it’s only temporary, the feelings come back, then you must re-consume the anesthetic agent. Why are our young people and adults hurting so much that they have to anesthetize themselves with drugs and alcohol? Why do they think their lives are so despairing that they don’t want to feel anymore? I’m sure it’s a combination of things, especially in Maine. It’s hard to find a good job that gives a decent wage, for instance. Families are hurting financially, and that continues on for generations who feel hopeless and helpless about their situation. And the beat goes on, unrelenting. The drug lords realize this. They know a good thing when they see it. They know hurt and pain and desperation. They have a addictive product to sell, and plenty of hurting people who want to be numb. If only we could heal all that pain in a more constructive way! Take away the market - the need - and the drug pushers would have to find some other way to make a living, and these victims can’t “just say no,” when they don’t see any other viable alternative.
My second question is short. Why do we insist on separating alcohol from other drugs? It is just as addicting, just as powerful, just as deadly (more so in driving), but it is legal and sold in every grocery store. What’s up with that? Why is it acceptable and heroin not? I have personally seen the devastating effects of alcohol in our family and others. They use the acronym DUI for “driving under the influence” instead of the old DWI for “driving while intoxicated,” but in 99% of cases, that influence is booze. I’m not saying to make drugs legal or alcohol illegal. I’m just confused.
So this week I am hurting in my own way - for society, for our apparent inability to get to the root of these problems and bring some kind of hope - tangible hope, not some rhetoric - that will help them wake up to who they really are, children of God, and as a result, help them discover that life is to be lived fully awake, not emotionally numbed in a haze of anesthesia. It would take the cooperation of the spiritual community, the psychologists, the psychiatrists, the counselors, the economy gurus, the corporate community, the teachers, the doctors, the social workers, and countless others to agree to address the root - not just legalities - of this complex problem. At least it would be a start.