As a former federal law enforcement officer, I repeatedly watched people who struggled with addictions get caught up in committing crimes leading to their incarceration.
I’m not talking about the violent drug cartel members who have killed tens of thousands of people. I’m not talking about the legal pharmaceutical companies who have betrayed our trust by pushing medications they know are addictive and harmful. Both groups need to be pursued legally where appropriate.
I’m talking about the people who, as my friend Shane Garrard regularly said, are seeking a physical response to an emotional pain. And let’s be clear, a lot of people have a lot of emotional pain.
Before we get too judgmental about people who use illegal drugs, let’s remember two things: 1) we legalized alcohol for the purpose of soothing our emotional pain, and 2) there was a time when illegal drugs were …. legal.
Look, it’s a complicated issue with emotionally charged issues on all sides. We have lost countless people to addiction and we have lost hundreds of law enforcement officers trying to enforce the drug laws.
My work for the past few years has been to find ways to reduce the trauma that often manifests itself throughout our lives. Generational trauma related to or manifested by addiction is definitely on the list.
When people feel burned out, stressed out, and left out they are much more likely to seek comfort from artificial, illicit, and pharmaceutical substances.
I’ve seen trauma result in too many kids encountering the juvenile justice system; too many women (usually) who are subjected to domestic violence; and too many police officers who see no other option except for suicide.
At the heart of most, if not all, of these challenges is trauma that is connected to or exacerbated by narcotics. Why would we continue the cycle of making criminals out of people who are seeking what should be medically supervised solutions?
Are there consequences to one’s actions? Absolutely. However, the consequences are much less and the options for successful outcomes much higher when we are willing to see the world for how it is, not how we pretend it to be.
It’s a paradigm shift. It can be painful, but that doesn’t mean it’s not also profitable and potentially the prevailing means for improving our world.
If we are intellectually honest with ourselves, we should be willing to listen to ideas, have hard conversations, and engage with ideas. This is an idea worth exploring.
Johann Hari is a writer and journalist originally from Scotland who has written on the history of the war on drugs and why people turn to narcotics as an answer to their pain.
This week’s highlighted book is Hari’s, Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days on the War on Drugs.
I was introduced to Hari’s book a few years ago and was impressed with his writing and argument. It was definitely a book with which I wrestled. I still do.
Hari takes on a big challenge of trying to both explain how we, particularly in the United States, started the war on drugs in 1914 and why that “war” continues.
While there are other books on the subject, I offer this book as a starting point. If we are committed to reducing people’s trauma - trauma that manifests itself in adulthood and may be a product of childhood trauma - then we need to seriously consider changing a policy that obviously, OBVIOUSLY, has not solved our problems for over 100 years.
How do we start? First we become more educated on the subject. Second, we invite people to discuss their concerns and ask their questions. Tackle both steps with this book and the podcast listed below.
Explore options for reading the book from Amazon: Chasing the Scream.
End It For Good advocates for a legal and regulated drug market for the purpose of saving people’s lives and helping them seek medical help to deal with their addictions.
Christina Dent, the Founder of End It For Good, willingly shares that she is a conservative Christian with a degree in Biblical Studies who has wrestled with her beliefs and background when it comes to our nation’s drug policies. She is certainly not the typical individual who is usually associated with the support of legalizing drugs.
Christina has done incredible work around this subject and has captured the attention of thousands. I know she has changed people’s minds: people in law enforcement, people in government, and people in the church.
From the End It For Good website: “We’ve waged a war on drugs through the criminal justice system for 100 years now. Yet we have a vibrant underground market causing violence in our streets, increasingly deadly substances causing overdose deaths to soar, and millions of incarcerated consumers causing families to be destroyed. We’re losing on every front.”
You can watch her explain her convictions and work in her Tedx talk here: End the War on Drugs for Good.
For this week’s highlighted podcast episode, I’ve chosen an interview Christina did with Police Chief Peter Muyshondt in Antwerp, Belgium. His story and encapsulation of the issues facing law enforcement and the public is summarized quite well. He’s passionate and realistic about the challenges.
It’s rare that active duty law enforcement officers will speak out on the topic of legalizing drugs. I was no different. It has taken me years to get closer to the idea that drugs - hard, currently illegal drugs - need to be legalized and regulated by the Federal government like we do other strong narcotics.
I’m not quite there all the way, but Christina’s work has helped me think through the issues and get closer to fully embracing the idea.
To listen to the podcast episode on Apple: Chief Peter Muyshondt - Too Much a Cop, Too Little a Brother.
Photo of Skull and Crossbones by Colin Davis on Unsplash.