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Guest column: Society must focus on root of drug problem

by Davis Smith
| May 5, 2022 2:10 PM

Driving through Polson, I am reminded of all the times in high school when I was told how devastating the drug issue was in our town. Naturally, I used to think these drugs were the cause of the ubiquitous poverty within our community. However, I cannot help but think this causal relationship is reversed.

Carl Hart, professor of neuroscience and psychology at Columbia University, notes that addiction “has almost nothing to do with the drugs themselves ... [and] has much more to do with our psychosocial environment.” Thus, instead of drugs causing psychosocial pain, it is poor psychosocial health that leads to drug dependence and misuse.

If this is the case, why is Lake County so obsessed with fighting the symptom rather than the disease? Why were my high school conversations so drug central and not psychosocial central?

Professor Hart also addresses this issue. In his book, "Drug Use for Grown Ups," he writes that many of the negative connotations people associate with drugs are not formed from evidence, but by “anecdote and conjecture issued by authority figures.”

Indeed, the post-1970s fear of drugs is most likely far too extreme. Recent studies from Johns Hopkins University and other institutions suggest that current Schedule I drugs such as psilocybin (magic mushrooms) and 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) are safe and effective at treating anxiety, PTSD and mental disorders amongst those with cancer. Many people also do not realize that methamphetamine can be prescribed to people with ADHD or obesity issues, so clearly the drug itself is not pure destruction.

Hence, perhaps our community is so focused on wrongfully demonizing these drugs because it is the easy thing to do. For decades we have blamed drugs for countless issues, but where has that taken us? Can anyone seriously claim the war on drugs in Lake County has been a success? On April 26 Polson Police, alongside a SWAT team, arrested 13 adults for drug distribution. However, despite the incessant war on drugs, our own commissioners acknowledge that our community faces a “troubling increase in drug-related crime.”

Instead, we should divert Lake County’s time and money toward solving the psychosocial issues that lead to addiction.

Most notably, those with mental disorders who are addicted to drugs should in no way be punished for their drug use. Giving these people psychiatric and psychological help will improve their psychosocial condition and reduce their risk of addiction. Education is another method of improving the psychosocial status of our community and so too is increasing financial literacy.

The most challenging underlying issue to address is the lack of self worth amongst those in Lake County and the lack of value people assign to their life. According to Professor Hart’s philosophy, those who value their lives and find worth in what they do are much less likely to become addicted to drugs. While I cannot claim that I know how to help people find value in their lives, perhaps this is what our community should devote its resources toward.

This approach also allows us to recognize that these drugs do have destructive side effects. In no way am I proposing that methamphetamine and fentanyl have not cost lives and ruined families in Lake County; in no way am I saying that the children who lived in the meth house of the recent SWAT raid should not have been moved to a healthier environment. I also do not know if I agree completely with Professor Hart that all drugs are safe if used properly. What I am saying is that our causal relationship between drug use, poverty and psychosocial ill-health is seriously backwards. Addiction is not causing the pain that our community suffers from. Moreover, if drugs were the cause of this pain, decades of SWAT raids should have solved the issue by now. Instead, it is the poverty and psychosocial ill-health within Lake County that is causing so much addiction.

We need to stop fighting drugs. It is a battle that will go on for eternity and cost enormous sums of money. Our local leaders (political, social, scholastic and religious) should instead begin to address the real issue. Let’s divert the money we spend on combating drugs and instead better fund our schools, educational programs for adults, programs that help people find meaningful jobs and community projects that show the talent and beauty within our citizenry.

Davis Smith, a 2020 graduate of Polson High School, is a first-year student at Columbia University in New York.

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