Donald Trump tried to scare us with his exaggerated rhetoric about the dangers from illegal immigrants, Muslim travelers to the U.S. and other strawman issues. But neither he nor Hillary ever mentioned what I believe to be the No. 1 threat to our very survival: out-of-control drug abuse of epidemic proportions. This, not cancer, is our No. 1 health problem today. But nobody seems to want to talk about it. Drug abuse has a vast impact on every area and aspect of American life; crime, broken families, worker absenteeism and reduced productivity, industrial and vehicular accidents, physical and mental health disorders, homelessness, incarceration, child and spousal abuse, welfare fraud and in myriad other areas.
Alcohol, legal almost everywhere, is the world’s most universally-consumed and widely-abused drug. And recent studies indicate that heavy drinking is on the rise most everywhere in the U.S. But the really bad news is that we rank among the top five nations for almost every type of drug abuse and drug-related social problem. In addition to our heavy alcohol consumption, we also rank near the top in marijuana usage. Surprisingly, The Netherlands, world-famous for casual attitudes toward marijuana and soft drugs, aren’t even among the top five nations in actual usage. The Dutch are eclipsed by Spain, the Czech Republic, France, The U. S. and others. But now for the real shocker.
Although the United States constitutes slightly less than 5 percent of the world’s population, Americans consume 80% (that’s four-fifths!) of the world’s opioids, legal and illegal. These figures include prescription narcotics, mostly OxyContin. But to me the really alarming thing is the fact that we seem only mildly concerned about an out-of-control narcotic consumption rate of epidemic proportions. How can we ignore this glaring health and social problem? The number of addicts currently being treated here is insignificant compared to our total number of drug addicts. All things considered, we are clearly the "druggiest" nation on the planet. But where’s the concern? Where’s the outrage? And what can we actually do about it?
Many studies, including some by the prestigious RAND Corporation, have concluded that education and treatment are usually more effective in combating drug abuse than interdiction and incarceration. The most vulnerable time for the introduction to drugs appears to be from the early-to-middle teenage years. Therefore, the preadolescent years would seem to be the best time to introduce drug education. I also believe parents must learn to monitor the behavior of their teenagers more closely during this vulnerable period, recognize the early tell-tale signs of drug activity and take action.
I believe there is no punishment too harsh for criminals who promote drug use and sell drugs to our kids. But that’s not where we must begin to attack this problem. We must use a demand-side, rather than a supply-side strategy. And this must begin in the home, the church and the schools. If we wait until the early teens we’ve probably waited too late.
George B. Reed Jr., who lives in Rossville, can be reached by email at email@example.com.