Recently my boyfriend had a splitting headache that just wouldn’t go away. No I wasn’t the one who caused it. But being the caring humanitarian I am, I instantly offered my sacred bottle of extra strength 250 mg aspirin laced 250mg of acetaminophen and 65 mg of caffeine (sorry no brand names here). “Here, take one. It will knock the pain out instantly,” I told him. Although the tension he felt was evident by his dazed eyes and puckered brows, my pain stricken boyfriend simply declined my remedy with the flippant responds, “no thanks, I don’t take drugs.”
Needless to say, I was kind of taken aback by his comment. Not some much by his refusal, but the unintended implication of me being a drug pusher. Although I had “experimented” with marijuana in my twenties, I wouldn’t classify myself as a drug addict. But a quick survey of my medicine cabinet may suggest that like so many of us, I have a dependence on over-the-counter medicines. Every summer, I rely on a daily dose of 10 mg of Loratadine for relief of sneezing, runny nose, itchy, watery eyes and other allergy related symptoms. And having a cold or flu turns me into a big whinny baby. So I’ll sucked down pints of cherry-flavored cough syrup until my cold is either gone, or I’m firmly secure in coma. I also have a bottle of ibreprophen for toothaches, a pill to relieve the cramping associated with menstruation and a bunch of other kinds of medicines, which I can’t remember what they do. My medicine cabinet may seem perfectly normal to most Americans, who like me, can’t stand to be in any kind of pain longer than we have to. But what about the true addicts among us, those who’s pain runs deeper than a tension-filled headache or a tear in the flesh. We as a society tend to cast a deeper shadow of ridicule and guilt on those addicted to illegal drugs such as crack cocaine and heroine as oppose to those who may need a little extra every night to help them fall asleep faster. So why are some drugs perceived different from others? I often wonder how different are those young boyz, dressed in oversized white-tees and fitted caps, pedaling “green” five for $20 on street corners compared to the pharmaceutical executives in tailored expensive suits and briefcases, who hawk tiny pills on television with claims to relieve the restlessness in your legs.
Today, Opioid prescription medications such as oxycodine, vicodin, methadone and morphine are being abused at rates much more prevalent than crack cocaine and even heroine. According to the White House’s own policy page (www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov), “While overall illicit drug use is declining, the abuse of prescription drugs, particularly narcotic pain killers, remain disturbing high.” Additionally, “Abuse of prescription drugs to get high has become increasingly prevalent among teens and young adults. Past year abuse of prescription painkillers now rank second—only behind marijuana—as the Nation's most prevalent illegal drug problem.” Some even more alarming figures show that in 2000 alone, 43 percent of those who ended up in hospital emergency rooms from drug overdoses, which equals nearly a half million people, were there because of misusing prescription drugs.
While I’m not trying to discount that there are benefits to many of these drugs. After all, painkillers do relieve pain for those suffering from physical ailments, chronic diseases and mental instabilities. But clearly as we dive head first into this new epidemic of drug abuse, we have to begin thinking differently about how we as society reacts to this problem. There is no way that we can lock up every prescription drug user – all 6 million of them, who have admitted using prescription pills for non-medical uses. Besides the beds in our correctional facilities are already being occupied by the tens of thousands crack cocaine, heroin and marijuana users we arrest annually. Truth of the matter is this war on drugs isn’t quite working the way we all, or at least some of us, had envisioned. Since it began, this “prohibition” has cost taxpayers billions and we yet haven’t put a dent in the illegal drug trade. In fact, the illegal drug trade is flourishing, so are the crime, the violence and the death that usually goes along with it. Maybe it’s about time we begin seeking out new solutions.
On August 11th, the Marijuana Policy Project will be a guest on People, Places & Things and their goal is quite simple: to work to change U.S. policies and remove criminal penalties for marijuana use, particularly making marijuana medically available to seriously ill people who have the approval of their physicians. I personally believe that decriminalization of marijuana is a great start. But I also believe it needs to go further. We need to remove criminal penalties for ALL drug use and encourage, NOT FORCE, rehabilitation as an alternative to incarceration. Like it or not, we are a society under the influence - whether it be drugs, alcohol or something else. I’m not saying that using drugs for non-medical use is okay but it already is an acceptable norm. And pretending that we are some puritan version of ourselves continues to do us more harm than good. Until this happens, it will be hard to remain drug-free in this over the counter culture. Your thoughts?