More than ever before, I cringe when I hear a politician talk about addiction. Sure, there are plenty serving who are probably hiding addictions to alcohol, gambling, sex or whatever, but these are often the same politicians who rally against help the loudest. I’m not going to get on my soapbox about this hypocrisy today, however.

I cringe because, as I wrote in the most recent blog, if you have not experienced addiction, there is no way to truly understand how it feels inside. At best, the non-addict can see the pain of it in the addicted and witness the fallout of addiction-related decision making. Addiction is a problem, but it’s unlike any other problem out there.

We are now facing an opioid epidemic like never before. Politicians think they can solve the problem, or at least want to tackle it, but they don’t understand the problem to begin with.

There is a logical solution any economist could give you. It’s been proven going after drug dealers doesn’t work. If you want to end the sale of opiates or any other illegal substance, you simply lock-up everyone who has been nabbed using them. The drug user is the customer. If there are no customers, the industry ceases to exist and the dealers have to look elsewhere to make their money. Every industry that has died has seen its customers go away. Why wouldn’t that work here?

The problem to this solution is that plenty of people won’t get arrested and of those who do, they’ll get released someday. If you have an addiction, even if it has strayed into illegal territory, as long as you haven’t harmed another, you shouldn’t be doing a second of jail time. I was not in this category. I deserved what I got because I hurt people with my crime.

I’m not going to pretend to be an expert because while I’m an alcoholic, I have never had an issue with drugs beyond a lot of pot smoking in my early 20s, prior to be properly medicated for bipolar disorder. But, I spent a combined 5 months at inpatient rehabilitation facilities and 6 months in jail living side-by-side with drug addicts.

Addicts have a lot in common. Science suggests that regardless of the addiction, the same basic chemical process happens in the brain. Granted, certain addictions won’t cause the additional physical risk of using drugs, but that undying, incontrollable urge to use drugs is something that any addict can relate to and understand.

Addiction is a symptom of a bigger problem. I can’t remember what book I read it in at this point, but it said something like less than 10% of those suffering with addiction don’t have some kind of mental health issue and/or major trauma in their past. These may both go undiagnosed and unrecognized in the user for years, but they’re present. My understanding of my mental health issues came more than a decade before I was able to admit to and address the trauma that happened in my life as a child.

People without addiction seem to think that if you treat the symptom, the problem will go away. You’d think with almost 40 years of clearly failed drug policy in the United States, they’d go a different route, but the things that all addicts need are the not the things that get votes.

We can stereotype and guess at what our politicians’ stances on mental health and/or addressing trauma are, but do you actually know their positions? Do they know their positions? Does anybody know what’s really being done and how success is being measured? I’m among the 99.999% who can say no, I don’t.

You can deal with a sick tree by poking at its leaves. If the illness is in the roots, all you’re doing is landscaping. If all you’re doing to deal with an addict, drug or otherwise, is trying to get them to stop taking whatever substance or engaging in whatever behavior is your perceived issue with them, all you’re doing is putting a Band-Aid on a gaping, infected wound. It needs to be treated at the source.

I’m not going to get into a giant philosophical partisan political debate because it doesn’t actually solve anything. There are a couple of organizations in this world that have the resources — the money, the brain power, the infrastructure — to solve the great problems that face mankind, but they don’t. The United States government is one of them. A war on drugs, or any addiction, may get votes, but will never work. If we’re going to get to a new level of understanding and solutions with addiction, it needs to be viewed as a humanitarian effort.

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