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Breaking the Cycle: Changing the Way We See Addiction

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Interior views of traditional prison

Interior views of traditional prison

Getty Images

Getty Images

Interior views of traditional prison

Gage Buddemeyer, Staff Writer

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Americans in general seem to have a very poor understanding of what addiction actually is. Of course we all know it’s a disease, but our problem lies with the way we treat it. Let’s go back to the very beginning of this whole mess and see if we can’t figure out the issue at hand.

In the early 70’s, President Nixon declared a war on drugs (aptly named The War on Drugs.) It was believed that the use and abuse of drugs was the number one issue plaguing our society. So, naturally, we started chucking people into prisons as fast as humanly possible. This, paired with ridiculous mandatory minimum sentences, led to U.S. prisons overflowing with inmates. Fun fact: The United States harbors more prisoners than any other country in the world! Wow!

Now of course this wasn’t all bad; we were doing a pretty great job at keeping drugs and their suppliers off the streets for a while. Illicit drugs follow economic rules the same way any other product does, however. So when the supply of drugs was cut short in such a teeny span of time domestically, the demand skyrocketed and opened the market to various cartels located elsewhere in the world. This allowed drug lords in Asia and South America to give way to the heroin and cocaine epidemics, respectively, in the 80’s.

On top of this, countless anti-drug PSAs aired during after-school programs and were displayed on arcade cabinets before games were played. These messages did a great job at teaching kids adults alike that, “crack is whack” and, “drugs are for thugs,” but they failed to convey to their more emotionally developed demographics that drugs addicts weren’t always malicious junkies trying to ruin your children, they are people struggling with deep-seeded emotional issues who need to recover not just internally, but socially. When somebody seeks help at a rehabilitation center, they often come back shunned and cast out from society. Isolated drug addicts have nothing to turn to except for their addictions. This point was demonstrated perfectly in Bruce Alexander’s Rat Park experiment in the late 1970’s.

If our country starts allocating the money they’re spending on prisoners who are incarcerated for drug abuse on programs designed to help them recover financially, socially, and internally, we will start seeing beautiful changes within our society. Do you think our country’s drug policy needs an overhaul? Let us know. Remember: Drugs are bad, people are not.

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