Blame for drug abuse goes to abusers

April 03, 1996|By GREGPRY KANE

A. Robert Kaufman hurriedly scribbled notes on a pad as Edythe Jones rattled off a list of objections to 6th District Councilman Norman Handy's resolution urging the federal government to treat the drug crisis as a public health issue.

"It does not speak to the eradication of drugs," Jones, a co-chairman of the Million Man March women's committee, said of the resolution Handy sponsored March 25. At a forum sponsored by the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance on Thursday, Jones and Kaufman were joined by Handy and the Rev. Arnold Howard to debate the resolution's merits. In Jones' view, the merits were few.

"It does not speak of treatment or how to pay for it," she continued. "It perpetuates the difference between powder and crack cocaine."

Most important, Jones said, the resolution did not address yet another crisis spawned by the drug problem: the increasing numbers of black women being arrested for drug use. Jones said she supported the idea of drug use being treated as a public health issue. She parts company with Kaufman on the issue of whether the government should sell drugs to addicts.

Kaufman shot back that Jones was acting demagogically, that she hadn't read the resolution, that treatment would be paid for by the money saved from treating drugs as a criminal justice problem and that under his plan no one would be arrested for drug use. Kaufman, an organizer for the Citywide Coalition, has pressed the council for the resolution for the past few years.

All the speakers agreed that the "root cause" of drug use must be addressed. Pity none of them has a clue as to what the root cause is.

Mind you, their hearts are in the right place. Councilman Handy is to be commended for his courage in making the resolution and realizing, like Mayor Kurt Schmoke, that we are losing the "war on drugs" and that a new approach is needed. But Handy believes "the system breeds drug use and is the root cause."

Howard said, "Racism and classism drive people to use [drugs]." Jones said, "Only people who believe they have no other recourse resort to drugs." Kaufman, ever the Marxist, said the economy "guarantees mass poverty, which guarantees drug use. People don't choose to be addicts but turn to them when they're crushed enough."

Anyone detect a trend here? Were all these folks struggling not to utter the dreaded phrase "personal responsibility," a phrase that everyone on the liberal to left end of the political spectrum wants excised from the English language? It is not poverty, or racism, or classism or "the system" that breeds drug use. It's America's culture of hedonism.

Simply put, drug addicts use drugs to get high. I suspect it's because they like it.

Richard Pryor, who used cocaine even after he became filthy rich, may be the most honest drug addict in America. In his autobiography "Pryor Convictions" he gave a simple reason for his drug use: He liked it.

If we are going to succeed in treating drug use as a public health problem, then we have to drop all those tired, worn, hackneyed excuses for why people use them. It is not poverty. Not all poor people use drugs and some quite rich ones do.

We also can drop the old standbys of depression and low self-esteem. Every human being on the face of the earth has, at one time or another, been depressed, felt worthless or had low self-esteem. If these things caused drug use, we'd have an entire planet of addicts.

No, folks, addicts just like getting high. If society is to blame at all, it's because we encourage the most serious drug problem in the country: alcohol. Our acceptance of booze, our elevation of alcoholic consumption to a cultural imperative are at the root of our drug crisis. To end it, we might just demand that bar owners stop referring to certain time slots for customers to come in and drink as the "happy hour," thus sending the message that to be happy you must booze.

We might urge the NFL and NBA to ask television networks to stop airing commercials that equate excessive boozing with having a good time. We've seen them. A posse of ants carrying a beer bottle to their ant hill, opening it, pouring it down and then the party tune "Get down tonight" blasting from the hole. The latest "cute" booze commercial has a guy uttering the now famous "I love you, man" line to get a bottle of Bud Light. You have to wonder how the folks who write these things sleep at night.

It just might be with a little help from the products they advertise.

Gregory P. Kane's column appears Wednesdays and Saturdays.

Pub Date: 4/03/96

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