The Courage to Change
The recent cover story "No Quick Fix" [by Jesse Fox Mayshark, Vol. 9, No. 40] touched on some excellent points. As a recovering alcoholic/ addict who has done considerable volunteer work at various A&D treatment facilities, I'd like to share some opinions I've reached through personal experience.
Addiction, at its core, is a problem of physiology, psychology, and spirituality. Likewise, its solutions are physiological, psychological, and spiritual. Prohibition does not solve anything. On the contrary, it creates societal problems that are more harmful than the drugs themselves. Addicts commit crimes because drugs are expensive. Drugs are expensive because they are illegal. Prisons are overcrowded not because of drug use per se, but because of criminal behavior associated with its high cost.
In our society, a certain number of people will never use chemicals recreationally, illicit or not. A much larger number will use them experimentally, occasionally, or moderately. A small segment of the population will always have problems with substance abuse, no matter what the legal status of the substance is. Alcoholism and addiction to other drugs is recognized as a disease. Does prohibition really address the disease of addiction effectively?
I realize that legalization of all drugs is not going to happen any time soon, although I would contend that the idea is not as crazy as it sounds. Any increase in overdoses would be temporary; we do not refrain from jumping off high buildings because it is illegal. Innocent deaths would certainly decrease; competing beer stores do not shoot it out in the streets. Marijuana would be an ideal cash crop alternative for tobacco farmers. Revenue from marijuana taxes alone would be tremendous. Far less money would be leaving the country or going to organized crime. Strict quality control standards would result in safer drugs. We'd suddenly have more prison space than we'd know what to do with. I could go on, but I suspect that those who need convincing have stopped reading by now.
I am neither pro- nor anti-drug. My concern is the treatment of the disease of addiction. I truly believe that we can rethink our approach to addiction. Prevention programs should be realistic. Horror stories and daring kids to "just say no" are absurdly impractical. Tell them the actual, true facts and expect a certain amount of experimenting. Let's focus our attention and resources on the addict who wants help. Detox centers and halfway houses are terribly underfunded. While we build more prisons, addicts who desperately want help are on long waiting lists to get into treatment programs. In the long run, treatment is much cheaper and more effective than imprisonment. What's wrong with this picture?
On a personal note, if you are having problems with alcohol or other drugs (or are close to someone who is), check out the various 12-Step programs available. They helped me learn the full meaning of the Serenity Prayer:
God, grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
To change the things I can;
And the wisdom
To know the difference.
Justice is Fun
With all the recent talk about developing the downtown and drawing in tourists, I had hoped to one day grab a bite at an original "sit-in" counter or do business in a fully restored art deco cafeteria. Knowing that all this history and potential will soon be a vacant hole has made me question the justice of current development practices. Those in power are deciding where the rest of us want to spend our dollars.
In my mind, Tim Hutchison's proposed Justice Center is grouped together with the rest of the unwanted, expensive, and destructive developments in Knoxville (such as the governor's proposed bridge on campus and the high-density condos of Fort Sanders).
I could not, therefore, help but find some amusement in Mr. Tarr's recent reference to the new Justice Center as a future attraction in town ("Linking Up," Vol. 9, No. 41). Suggesting that the center should be accessible from the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame, Riverfront Park, and The Old City makes me wonder exactly what sort of project is being planned. Perhaps it includes a "Jail House Rock" theme restaurant or a youth hostel to utilize the extra cells?