How about common sense instead of a War on Drugs?
I’m 61, and I have two sons who are 25 and 28. How did I get to be that old, and how did they get to be that old? Those things I can’t tell you.
Both of them have a bunch of dead friends. Heroin, heroin, heroin, and heroin. There are more than that, but why go on? At 25 and 28, they have been to more funerals than I have.
Recently, my mom and I were out having lunch, and I asked our waitress how long it would take her to find us some heroin. She said about 20 minutes. Then she said her ex-husband, the father of her two children, is an addict.
I asked my own kids how long it would take them to bring home some heroin, and they said the same thing.
Of course, it might not be heroin they bring home. It might be heroin diluted with some other white powder. Or it might be fentanyl, super heroin. I don’t think the dead friends of my kids were dumb. I think, most likely, they thought they were taking diluted heroin when in fact they were taking super heroin, so they miscalculated, and died. Nor do I think most of them were addicts. I think most of them were just kids who enjoyed the high, and they died.
I had the great good fortune to be an early adolescent at the end of the ‘60s, a middle and late adolescent in the ‘70s. The Great Society, Vietnam, Haight-Ashbury, riots, Woodstock, Chicago ’68, Black Panthers, the beginning, middle and end of Richard Nixon, the beginning, middle and end of great rock and roll. And drugs entering the mainstream of American conversation.
Just about all my good friends at least tried smoking pot. Some liked getting high and kept doing it. Some didn’t, and stopped. Including me. I preferred alcohol, and became a binge drinker through high school. But I know the idea was the same — get to a place that was more fun. I had fun drinking; they had fun getting high. It was the same thing, just a different drug.
I knew a bunch of kids who got drunk and crashed their or their parents’ cars. One of them messed himself up permanently. One of them messed his little brother up permanently. One of them died.
Of the kids I knew who got stoned, there wasn’t one who got stoned and crashed a car.
Many of them went on and tried other drugs as they became available, later in the ‘70s. They tried them, they may have used them a lot for a while, and then they quit. They are now respectable 60-year-old men and women. They may smoke a joint now and then (or one hit from a joint — the pot is really strong now), as I have a beer or a glass of wine. They are all still alive.
But my kids’ friends are not. They are dead. After 40 years of the War on Drugs, after hundreds of billions of dollars spent to “protect” kids from drugs, after sending hundreds of thousands of mostly black or Hispanic, mostly poor drug dealers and users to prison, in 20 minutes you can find heroin in New Hampshire.
What’s wrong with this picture?
Kids are always going to play, and they are always going to experiment with new stuff, especially stuff that might be fun. Drugs are among the new stuff that’s available and potentially fun, so of course kids are going to try drugs. Duh.
Both of my kids tried pot, and both of them smoked a lot of pot for a while. Both of them smoked a lot of pot under my roof. Both knew I was fine with their trying other drugs, too (one of them did), as long as they didn’t drive (hopefully he didn’t). For them, drugs were decriminalized. There was no stigma attached to drugs, nor was there any attraction of forbidden fruit. They experimented, they enjoyed for a while, they may even have used drugs as a crutch for a while. But then they let go.
Experimenting with drugs, using drugs, isn’t bad or evil. Killing kids is evil. Sending poor kids to prison to no effect is evil. We’ve spent hundreds of billions of dollars on the War on Drugs, and more kids are dying from overdoses than ever have before.
The War doesn’t work. Our kids our dying. It’s time to try a different way forward.
Mark Lennon lives in New London.