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Saturday, January 2, 2016

OP-ED: Why We Are Losing the War on Drugs

Ryan Courtade. Provided. 
By Ryan Courtade, Community Activist

We are told of a battle that has been fought for many years. In 1971, President Nixon declared war on drugs stating that drug abuse is “America’s public enemy number one.” We have been taught since the 1970’s to “Just Say No”. But all we are doing now is just saying yes.

When I was a child, even while having medical professionals as parents, I was never just handed medication. My infant sister stayed up for 7 months crying, rarely sleeping; they never spiked her milk or force fed her antihistamines. Because that’s not healthy, that’s not right. I was never able to say “I’m sick, I need medication” as a child, and have them just hand me a pill. I was never able to tell them “I’m sad today” and have them get me a prescription to lift me back up.

Too often we are taught that we can solve things using chemical compounds. Someone is upset and bothering us? Give them drugs. A student is not doing well in school? Give them drugs. A baby isn’t able to sleep and is keeping us up at night? Give them drugs.

We are taught from birth that drugs make us better, that drugs will fix us or that drugs will take away our pain or make us forget. Just turn on the television at any hour of any day and it is drug commercial after drug commercial. Fat? We can help! Can’t get an erection? No problem! Get headaches? Take this! It’s gotten to the point with online medical advice forums and advertising that people are self diagnosing themselves and going to the doctors demanding a specific treatment. And as soon as people ask their doctor for a medication, that doctor stops being their doctor and starts becoming their dealer.

We have been waging war against street drug dealers, when all they have been doing is meeting the needs of our societies drug reliance. Because while we have been taught to just say no, we have been handed drugs our entire life. We have had 1,047 people overdose in St Elizabeth ERs in 2014, compared to the 672 lives lost in traffic accidents in the entire Commonwealth of Kentucky during the same year.

For 40+ years we have been waging a war on drugs. A war against chemical compounds and against individuals. We should have been focused on waging war on ourselves. On our society. On a culture that thrives on the concept that any problem can be fixed with a chemical solution. We throw people addictive drugs for innocent injuries but never follow up on the effects of those drugs, of the drug moderation or give strong guidance on how to effectively come off of these those medications.

We teach our kids that they are invincible. That nothing bad will happen to them. That mistakes will happen and they should try everything once. We don’t teach them how to be empathetic. How to identify people in pain or talk to those suffering. We don’t sit down any longer and get to know people. We don’t talk to people when they are hurt or alone or afraid. We actually look at this type of behavior as inferior, weak and unacceptable. And because there is no acceptance of people when they are hurt, alone or afraid, they turn to something that will make them feel better, to feel more accepted, they turn to drugs because that is what they are taught will make them feel better their entire life.

And because as a society we are either unwilling to have compassion, responsibility and empathy for these people hurting or unable to identify a hurting person because of lack of education, we intentionally or unintentionally turn a blind eye. And soon we realize that the person in need has turned to drugs and we have a guilty conscious for the loved one we weren’t able to be support properly. We call them an addict, a bum, a problem for society. But it’s a problem that we created – because addiction is a disease that can lay dormant forever, or it’s something that can take over in just one attempt of trying to feel accepted by those around us.

So we can donate our money to great awareness organizations, host rallies and wear wristbands. Awareness is great – we all learned so much from just say no. But awareness is not going to solve the underlying issue. We need to look inside ourselves and inside of our community. We need to talk to addicts and include them in the discussion of how to help them. We need to involve the entire community; business owners, community leaders, school and health care administrators, government agencies, parents, news anchors, church leaders, addicts and non addicts alike.

We need to stop looking down on addicts or recovering addicts like they are someone else’s problem. As a plague to society. As something less than ourselves. That mentality is not going to solve any problems. We need to ask ourselves are we trying to help people? Or just saying we are trying to help? Are we teaching people how to help? How to identify problems in people? How to accept people for who they are and build them up? Are we putting a stop to throwing medication at our kids? Are we willing to learn?

Parents are burying their kids after an overdose from a drug that was used based on a mentality that our society has instilled in them. A mentality that drugs fix things. Because, for their entire life they have been placated by drugs from pharmaceutical companies.

We need to educate ourselves and our community against this mentality that is killing our kids. We need to separate the court mandated offenders from the people actually seeking help. If the addict does not want to get help and is being court mandated to be in rehab, how effective do you think the treatment for people genuinely trying to get help will be with that negativity around? We need to support our police. To provide them with money to get drug dogs, tip lines, undercover investigators, and we need to do our part to report suspicious activity. We like to say “not our problem” but these are our streets and schools being ruined, these are our fellow community members that are dying.

We have to change our hearts. We have to change our minds. We have to start teaching more compassion for those that are hurt, alone or afraid. We have to start learning to identify and help those that have been through traumatic experiences, or being prescribed legal addictive medications. And instead of being so willing to pass judgment on those that we feel are inferior, we need to start passing help and encouragement. Drug addiction does not make someone any less of a person, it’s a disease, and we must do what we can to help. And we must change our laws to allow families easier access to get both available and affordable help for their loved ones suffering from this disease.

We haven’t been losing the war on drugs because of lack of interest… We have been losing the war because we have been battling the wrong enemy – drug abuse. When in fact we should be battling drug acceptance. It is time to stand together as a community to take action. You’re being drafted… Will you answer the call?

Ryan's website


  1. Mark.... Many great points! NKYHatesHeroin.Com has been preaching many of the same points you've discussed here! We appreciate you writing this article as the more people that we educate, the better! As bad as this epidemic is, we still run across people that act surprised when we start speaking the facts! Education, awareness, education, awareness!!!

    Chris Stegner
    Board Chair, NKYHatesHeroin.Com

  2. The fact of the matter remains that there are many who became addicted via use of recreational drugs. Education and awareness is no where near enough and this approach is like extinguishing a barn fire with a glass of water. It is not a problem born of a society that is used to medical providers writing scripts. It has been born of mismanagement of powerful pain killers which were misrepresented by drug companies and medical providers abruptly stopping these medications with no one really knowing how potent these drugs were. Physicians should have a mandatory algorithm of treatment to wean people off of potent drugs, and our community needs a more effective plan of action. One wonderful idea should be that the pharmaceutical companies that triggered this situation (in some patients) be held accountable and FUND chemical treatment facilities, one in every state. The other factor is simply recreational drugs, an no one has been able to stop them for decades. We need a stronger plan. One, that works, is a model in Massachusetts where people can turn themselves into police agencies to seek FREE treatment, without being charged with crimes. It is working, with over 100 people voluntarily taking part in the program. Education and awareness is no where near enough.