Edward Udel: Our drug problem



Whether they are injected, swallowed, licked, absorbed, snorted, smoked or toked, some drugs are killing us at a record rate and destroying many lives.

The local county district attorney reports that 65 heroine deaths have occurred in Massachusetts in the past few months. Surveys indicate that our children are consuming more and more drugs, and many thefts, unprovoked attacks and murders are drug related. According to one local judge, an overwhelming majority of crimes are rooted in drug use.

Our Canadian neighbors report just a fraction of the problem and our Western European allies, while also plagued with drug use, see nothing like the level and frequency of consumption in the United States. We are world leaders in that regard. Our Mexican neighbors, decrying the violent death and destruction caused by drug cartels attribute this problem to the enormous appetite for drugs north of their border.

What is there about life in this nation that stimulates this appetite? Why us? Some Republicans undoubtedly will credit Obamacare in their one- cause-fits-all campaign to reverse our course. The drug problem existed well before more of us had access to health care, long before pre-existing conditions were no longer acceptable reasons for canceling health insurance and years before young people up to the age of 26 could be covered by their family’s insurance plan. And to those Democrats who attribute all of our problems to poverty, many of those who use dangerous drugs are middle class, financially comfortable and/or wealthy. This is too serious a problem to address with political theater!

I’ve seen the effects in the classroom with high school students who couldn’t or wouldn’t lift their heads off of their desks and those who reeked of marijuana and got so hungry during class that they gnawed their pencils. I’ve seen a ninth- grade student snort a crushed breath mint with a plastic straw, heard the laughter of his classmates who witnessed the event and learned of his departure from school the following week when he checked into a rehabilitation facility.


If we Americans take drugs to escape, from what are we trying to escape? We never seem to focus on this critical question. Instead, we spend our time and energy assigning specific groups to "prevent the problem" and we condemn them when they fail. If I had a dollar for every disparaging remark I’ve heard directed against DARE, I would be independently wealthy. We treat these programs the same way we treat our public schools; we give them an impossible task to accomplish and then revel in our gotcha-ness when they fail to produce.

If we get past the scapegoating, where would an objective thought-provoking apolitical investigation lead us? We also need to consider the excessive use of prescription drugs. While the United States makes up only 4 percent of the world’s population, we consume 66 percent of the drugs. Our television screens are saturated with commercials that urge us to reduce our pain, both physical and emotional, sleep longer and breathe easier and the pharmaceutical industry does not spend lavishly on such commercials without a significant payback. Does life in the United States provide more pain than life in other nations or do we have less tolerance for it? Either way, our consumption of prescribed drugs is well out of proportion to our population.

Before antibiotics were available, my mother, then a child, was hit by a chunk of ice in a snowball fight. The family noticed that she began dragging one of her legs and within a short period of time, she underwent surgery in New York City that removed bone, froze her hip socket and required her to remain in a body cast for two years. She had to drop out of junior high school and work to help pay for her medical bills. Years later, as an adult, her shorter leg became arthritic and every step she took, every stair she climbed, caused her pain. She functioned by doing her best to ignore it and by forcing herself to remain active. Well into her 80s, she pushed a lawn mower, trimmed shrubs, tended a garden and kept an immaculate home.

I wonder what she would make of all the commercials for pain medication if she were still alive and I also wonder if I could come close to matching her courage and her wisdom "to keep moving no matter what." Is it possible that some emotional pain can be a good thing, and by contrast, can help us to appreciate the enjoyable times in our lives that we share with our loved ones? Are we trying too hard to remove that pain rather than learning how to control it and even make productive use of it? If the quality of life in the United States is the real problem, how do we address it?

Too many of us are committing suicide with our use of opiates, inflicting pain on innocent victims, and manufacturing scapegoats to absorb the responsibility. We won’t end this scourge until we understand it.

Edward Udel is a regular Eagle contributor.


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