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Addiction Is Not a Crime But Can Lead to Them

Blaming the addicted for being addicted does not help their recovery

There is an unfortunate tradition of being angry and disgusted at people who are addicted to heroin. Seeing addiction as a moral failing, these folks become outraged that our government spends their tax dollars on treating people who knew from the start they were using an addictive drug, in essence telling them they were on their own and we should not be spending a dime to help them.

I work with kids who are using heroin, alcohol, marijuana, every drug conceivable. Unlike adults, their ability to anticipate the future consequence of using a drug is under-developed. They never could anticipate getting addicted but they are. Each and every one of them started by smoking marijuana. Each and every one of them said, “Not me, I’m never going to use heroin. It’s just weed. I’m not going to get addicted.” But addiction cannot be simply willed away. In their heart of hearts they want to be sober. But addiction doesn’t happen in the heart. It happens in the brain.

When a brain is so overwhelmed with a desire to get a drug, it blocks the ability to think rationally.

When a person is robbed of rational thought it is our responsibility to substitute that thought until they can again take over. None of the kids I treat started using drugs with the intention of getting addicted. None of the kids I treat started using drugs with intention of hurting someone else.

Outrage over ongoing difficulty has led some citizens to declare our tax dollars have failed to decrease crime and addiction. But this is just not true. We are slowly educating kids that these drugs are not safe, and that their wish for adolescent invulnerability will be sorely humbled by the snapping jaws of addiction. When a kid knows a drug is dangerous they are less likely to use it. This is the first year ever that more kids are smoking weed than tobacco. From two decades of persistent public health education kids now know that cigarettes are dangerous. We have to do the same for marijuana. Medical marijuana is not safe just because we call it “medical.”

Addiction is not a crime but can lead to them. The real stolen jewels are the people robbed from us by addiction.

Prevention works, treatment works, but to continue to vilify people struggling with addiction, to continue treating them as lepers and pariahs is simply wrong. And to blame the addict for getting addicted reveals a deep seated and very dangerous intolerance, disdain, and self-righteous prejudice, a judgment that says more about a sector of our community than the addict they so strongly despise.