April 9, 2014 | Volume 101 / Number 15

The Trouble With Substances

What’s your drug of choice? It's a saying that some of us might not really put a lot of thought into. When I think about all the different vices we all have, from chocolate to fishing, there’s plenty of ways to blow off steam and deal with life’s stresses. The problem is a lot of us learn bad habits early on, and a lot of us learn those habits from friends, family and peers.

Over the past few months I’ve done a lot of research and spent a lot of time interviewing local authorities on substance abuse. While I was able to fit a lot into six segments over two months, I still wasn’t able to fit everything in. I still won’t fit it all into this article.

I’ve witnessed personally the power of drugs and alcohol. I’ve seen some great friends fall down a dark and terrible path. Few of them have made it out of their struggles with substances. While most of my series on drugs focused on meth, marijuana and prescription drugs, alcohol also plays a big role when it comes to substance abuse. If you were to talk to any recovering addict, you’d find that many times alcohol and weed were the start to the long road through substance abuse.

With states looking at the legalization of marijuana, there could be a setback to helping people recover from substance abuse. A written statement from Michael Botticelli, deputy director for the Office of National Drug Control Policy, explains his stance on the legalization of drugs. Several arguments push towards money gained by taxes, that the dangers are the same, if not less, than alcohol.

Botticelli explains that those taxation revenues will not compare to the health costs associated with the drug. He stated that federal taxes on alcohol in 2009 totaled to $9.4 billion, while the state and local taxes collected around $5.9 billion. The revenue only covers just over 6 percent of healthcare, treatment, lost productivity and criminal costs, which totals to $237.8 billion.

While there haven’t been many studies on the full effects of marijuana, it has been proven that the young developing brain can lose up to eight intelligence points. Several pamphlets, books and misinformation have started to spread on the internet about what weed could do for you. The truth is, the drug is just as dangerous as alcohol. It can take away the reasoning that might keep you from doing more serious drugs like meth or prescribed pain killers. Prescription drugs, legal drugs, are now becoming one of the most dangerous substance abuse issues, not only in Montana but nationwide.

The problem with a war against substances is that the war has been fought for centuries. Where there’s been a substance to abuse, there have been people whom find themselves addicted. It will never end. But is legalization really the answer? Marijuana is now the most commonly used drug in the U.S. Nearly 32 million people reported using the drug, ages 12 and over, in our country.

The problem with legalization is it makes the drug more easily available. I have three stepchildren in the state of Washington. With the drug legalized, I know their babysitters, their teachers, their older peers and other people they may associate with will be smoking, ingesting or using the drug. While I can talk to them about the dangerous effects the drug could have on their young brains, there is nothing to help me preventing others from using the drug in their presence.

Legalizing the drug might bring some unintended consequences. Something politicians run into all the time. When you make a decision, sometimes bad comes with the good. It’s all part of a package deal. I personally believe that the legalization, the decriminalization of the drug could encourage a bigger problem.

The only thing to keep our kids safe, our communities safe and our neighbors clean is to be vigilant on educating the public about drugs and alcohol. A community coalition, made up of law enforcement, teachers, pastors, students, parents and other peers to help educate the public, provide a place for people to go and connections to a healthier lifestyle choice.

Maybe it’s time to find some other drugs of choice, search for more healthy vices. Book clubs, choirs, sports, outdoor clubs, cooking classes and other activities for not just the younger kids, but for the young adults, for the seniors and for those in between could be a more productive and more cost effective way to fight substance abuse.

So what’s your drug of choice?

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