The Root Source of Drug Abuse

The US government and media has spoken about drug abuse for decades. Constantly seeking one influence or another to blame. Migrants, minorities, drug companies, etc.

The biggest problem with nearly any discussion on drug abuse is that the root cause of drug abuse is too often ignored, downplayed or completely omitted.

While we are seeing a massive increase in opiate addiction and overdose, this is not the first instance of this in US history. Prior to the creation of government agencies to regulate drug use, opiates were common and sold over the counter. Morphine, codeine and other opiates were in everyday medications like cough suppressants. At one time, Coca-Cola contained cocaine, derived from leaves from the coca tree, hence the name of the most popular soda in world history. 7-Up once contained Lithium, which is now used as a psychiatric medication used to treat manic disorders and allegedly acts as a mood stabilizer. Today, the US comprises 5% of the world population yet accounts for 80% of global opiate consumption.

At the same time we are seeing an increase in opiate use/addiction/overdose, the US also has seen an increase in antidepressant use since 1999. Benzodiazepines such as Valium, Xanax or Ativan saw prescriptions roughly double between 2003 and 2015, that most recent data compiled which I saw in a cursory search.

In addition to opiate use, the rising trend seen in illegal drug trade is bath salts. Bath salts act as a dopamine reuptake inhibitor, causing elevated mood in the user.

Whether we are talking about legal or illegal drugs, alcohol, bath salts, opiates or antidepressants, the same trend becomes evident. Each of these substances has specific similar effects, meaning decreased anxiety/elevated mood. To be clear, increased dopamine production or slowing the reuptake of dopamine, results in a similar response. Dopamine is the “feel good” hormone produced by the brain.

So, the question is, why are we seeing a desire for chemicals to improve our mood? Some like to claim it is a matter of privilege. Yet they cannot then explain why drug use and addiction are either constant across income levels or worse among the least privileged in society. Or why countries with higher income levels do not have higher rates of use and addiction. In general, why has addiction become more common in the past few decades in the US, while income levels have remained stagnant? Why do drug and alcohol use increase during times of severe economic downturn?

There have been studies on antidepressant use among younger Americans which show clearly that their depression is very real, for very real reasons which pills cannot cure. The same reasons apply to all forms of drug use and abuse.

Here is a short list of reasons we are seeing chemical use rise in the US-

This country has been at war for 18 continuous years. Many younger Americans see family members and friends enroll in the military due to lack of other opportunities. Those family members and friends change, become different people. Then they may not come back or come back injured, damaged physically and/or emotionally. Young people who do not enroll have a very real fear of a draft being enacted at some point. That fear has a very rational basis.

From young to old, we see people struggling to make ends meet. Many working multiple jobs. Younger people are staying at home much longer than previous generations and it is all due to financial reasons.

The price of education has skyrocketed far beyond the rate of inflation, leaving millions with student loan debt for decades, along with the associated interest. Defaults on student loans are the highest they have been in the history of this country. Meanwhile, many who are graduating are unable to find employment in their chosen careers, even when their degrees are in business management, accounting or vocational occupations. Which leaves them earning low salaries with high levels of debt.

Vehicle loans are seeing high numbers of defaults, with the average car payment today being over $500 a month. Or a person has the choice of spending many hours every day on the worst public transportation system of any first world country. Imagine doing that when you have children. Or maybe you don’t have to imagine it. You may be reading this while riding the bus, for all I know.

There is the constant fear of mass shootings, either in schools, churches, theaters, malls, night clubs. Meanwhile our CONgress remains in the pocket of the NRA, refusing to take meaningful action. If the same number of people died every year from an illness or certain class of vehicle as from assault weapons, we would have large sums of money thrown at it and the banning of that class of vehicle entirely.

Anyone being pulled over by police has no idea if evidence will be planted on them or in their vehicle. Road side drug tests are proven to be unreliable and are inadmissible in court, yet you can be held in jail for days before a more valid forensic test proves your innocence and even that will not help if a dirty officer plants evidence. Of course, you also have the chance of being shot while reaching for your wallet.

Racism is rampant. People of color fear being victims of hate crimes just walking or driving. Or being shot by police for the crime of not being white.

Women fear being physically and/or sexually assaulted. Men fear being accused of things they’re actually not guilty of.

People are afraid to speak to each other. Period.

Like I said, this is a short list of reasons we are seeing such an epidemic of mind-altering chemical use and abuse. Yet the discussion regarding those chemicals, the root causes for the prevalence of their use is rarely discussed. The media and government steadfastly refuse to discuss the issues leading to the problem because doing so would result in lower profits for major advertisers and donors, such as drug companies, for-profit prisons and weapons manufacturers selling to police departments. They all want to continue the failed war on drugs which has raged on for nearly 50 years and only escalated with the results being what we see today.

If we want to see a change, we have to change the approach. Up to now, it has been doing the same thing every single year and expecting different results. So it is up to us to insist on the discussion to change topics. That real problems be addressed, that new solutions be enacted. Too many lives have been destroyed by the current approach. If we don’t absolutely demand that things change, millions more lives will be destroyed.

We have no idea how many innocent people have had their lives and the lives of their families torn apart by planted evidence. Even if guilty of possession of drugs, does that alone warrant paying for it for the rest of your life?

The war on drugs to date has cost us uncounted trillions of dollars. Mock hearings, millions of people in prison, families on public assistance where they were not before, children and innocent adults caught in the crossfire, decimated careers, psychological therapy for any number of related issues and militarized police all cost us every day of our lives in ways we can never account for financially or emotionally.

The ultimate truth about our drug problem is that it leads to many other problems which are far more costly on every level. It is caused by other problems which are too often ignored or viewed separately. We will never solve the drug problem unless we address the problems which lead to it. We will never stop the problems it leads to unless we solve the drug problem.

In other words, drugs are not the problem, they are a symptom of the real problem. The real problem is capitalism. Does that mean we would have no drug problem if we lived in a Socialist society? No. It means we would address the drug problem in far different ways, ways which preserved society instead of ripping it apart. The only reason we are not doing so right now is because of the profit motive of those truly in charge of our society. If we discuss ways to reduce the cost of any problem, capitalists instantly think, “But we’ll make less money!”

If we talk about treating addiction as an illness using a nationalized treatment program, they scream, “But who will pay for it?!” We would. We would pay far less than we do now in every way. We would have more money, more freedom, less violence, less crime, less depression, less anxiety, less anger, less paranoia, fewer suicides, fewer guns, fewer families ripped apart, fewer absent parents, less racism, lower medical costs of treating poisoned chemicals made in garages in other countries…

In the end, we need to wage war against the war on drugs.

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Violence And Drugs In Alabama Prisons

I’ve mentioned before that I have been a nurse for over 24 years. Currently I work in the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC).

You may have heard of the recent DOJ report on violence in the ADOC system. Unfortunately, I feel this report falls far short of an accurate picture because of all that it neglects to mention. It does reveal that ADOC experiences far more violent instances than the next most violent prison system. However, the DOJ report mentions only prisoner-on-prisoner violence. It does not mention officer-on-prisoner or prisoner-on-officer violence.

The DOJ report also makes recommendations for curbing the violence in ADOC facilities such as increasing the number of officers.

Where the report truly falls short is expressing where the violence stems from in the majority of cases. Speaking from first hand experience, what I can tell you is that the majority of violent incidents are related to drug use and traffic inside the prison system.

This brings up an obvious question which nobody seems to want to address. This is a prison system. So, how do drugs even get into the prisons? The answer should be just as obvious as the question.

At some prisons, all personnel are checked on entering the facility. At others like the prison I currently work at, checks are random. Nurses get “shaken down” or dogs sniff your vehicle before entering. Since I began here a year ago, no nurse has been caught smuggling in an illicit substance. Tales of years past persist and I’ve never heard any stories of a nurse smuggling in drugs. Not saying it doesn’t happen, just that it is exceedingly rare. In an environment where drug use is rampant, every hour of day and night, no nurse or visitor would be capable of smuggling a quantity of drugs sufficient to add 1% to the amount of drugs flowing through a single prison facility. Visitations are monitored by officers, visitors are checked before entering. Medical personnel encounters with inmates are supposed to be monitored by officers at all times, partly for the safety of medical personnel.

Shortly after entering the ADOC system I learned how low the pay for officers is. They have good benefits but pay is not very high. Which led me to notice something. The vehicles in the parking lot. While nurses are paid higher than officers, most of us drive pretty standard, sometimes older, vehicles with no exorbitant price range. Yet many officers drive sports cars or large trucks with much higher price tags.

That’s not saying anything against officers who work a lot of overtime, multiple jobs or have retirement from prior careers, such as military. This is not uncommon. Others have spouses who bring in an additional income to their household.

Yet there are a large number of officers who drive expensive vehicles, work minimal overtime while driving expensive vehicles which most nurses say they could not afford easily.

Recently an officer at one local prison was charged with drug trafficking inside the prison and bail was reportedly set at $1.5 million. One of the biggest problems with this case is that the officer had worked at the same facility for several years. Verbal reports claim he was caught with nearly 2 lbs of artificial marijuana, which has been linked to numerous medical complications, chest pain and altered levels of consciousness.

What is worse is that drug dealing in the prison system leads to violent altercations for drug debt or suspicion of inmates being informants. In some cases, officers have been assaulted and severely injured. For a corrections officer to be witness to the consequences of drug traffic in the prisons, including the danger to their own fellow officers, is inexcusable. Stabbings are fairly common and deaths definitely occur, either from assault or directly due to the substance involved.

The further questions which should be raised regard how many other officers have been or are currently involved in such drug trafficking. Are there supervisors further up the chain with awareness, yet allow it to continue because they share in the profits?

Many modern drugs in the prison system are harder to detect than in decades past. These drugs can incite completely mindless violent behavior. A popular one is Flakka, which has been heard of in cases like one in Florida where a man tried to eat another man’s face off. Many are synthetic. Meaning formulations and forms can change from one lab or supplier to another. This also means they are higher risk. One never knows what chemicals are being pumped into a person’s body. These drugs can have unpredictable effects on the mind, while causing possible permanent damage to internal organs and the brain.

If an inmate suffers permanent damage which renders them permanently disabled, that leaves the taxpayer holding the bill for their support and medical care for the rest of their lives, even if they are released from the prison system. The same is true of injuries from violent incidents.

So this is an issue which affects all of us in the state of Alabama because the price will continue to accumulate and increase year after year. Even without permanent disabilities, the cost of acute medical care is massive, costing tens of millions per year. For rural prison sites, medical emergencies warrant frequent helicopter flights for transport, which costs the taxpayer roughly $40,000 for just one single transport.

Meanwhile, the level of violence and risks involved make it difficult to recruit corrections officers. The legislature acts as though throwing money at the problem will fix it. That will not work. They just decreased the pay raise for existing officers this year. For good officers who have spent years in the system, what effect will it have if new officers are hired in at higher pay than the veteran officers? Yet even new officers understand that the violence is not worth the risk. What good is money if you’re dead?

The known sources of violence must be addressed before anything will improve. For that, it really requires investigation and coordination with external agencies. ADOC and our legislature should request assistance from the DEA to go into the prisons and root out the sources of drugs flowing into the system.

I have already written before that the prison population needs to be reduced. Drug addiction should be treated as an illness rather than a crime. Treating addiction as an illness costs far less than incarceration. The average cost of incarceration in AL is $57 per day. If we spent $10–15 on treatment per day, the cost would plummet. If cannabis were legalized, the cost would be even less and would create jobs which would increase tax revenue.

I will be honest and state that even writing this could well place me in extreme personal danger, not only while at work but away from work as well. That risk is only minimized by the fact that the DOJ report has already shown a spotlight on the violence issue in the system, so more attention is being leveled at the problem. The risk involved is probably why nobody openly even asks the questions or state the obvious as I am doing here. Yet the other thing which decreases my risk is publicly raising awareness. Once published, there is no taking it back. The questions cannot be un-asked, the information cannot be erased. Then again, retaliation is always a possibility.

A copy of this article will be forwarded to multiple media sources, along with multiple elected officials. I will post information of any responses I may receive on the subject. Let’s see if they can do anything but spend money and point fingers.