You’re The Worst, Mr. Hearst

Addiction existed long enough in the public consciousness for its myths to pass through phases of truth, fallacy, and indifference before arriving back where they started. Today, almost 100 years since Bill W. and Dr. Bob established the Alcoholics Anonymous program, we as a society understand addiction more than we ever have. 

Substance abuse is unanimously classified as a mental health disorder. Addiction specialists have become healthcare specialists, using multi-disciplinary, integrative approaches to the medicinal management of addiction. Heck, the recent network sitcom Mom revolved around the idea that addiction is funny, quite a departure from the grim after-school specials that dotted the TV landscape in the 70s and 80s. 

Still, our understanding of addiction barely scratches the surface of the multiple complexities lining the coat of what is now considered an addiction epidemic in this country. Citizens are overdosing at alarming rates. Death via fentanyl ingestion is quickly becoming the number one cause of death in the U.S., more than heart attacks and cancer combined.

As far as we have come in the near-century since the 1935 watershed printing of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, we, unfortunately, haven’t come far at all.

Much of this misalignment with addiction woes and solutions can be traced back to corporate greed and buffoonery at the highest level. We collectively and blindly demonized marijuana when it threatened to become a cash crop. We extended this attitude towards all substances that weren’t sold in stores and taxed, substances that maybe made us feel strange or impacted our behavior in bizarre ways. 

Denouncing illegal substances became a battle cry. American legislators turned a blind eye towards their own adventures with illegal goods to lambast the public for their wicked forays into the dark, unbridled den of horror called addiction. These men on the mountaintop weren’t immune to the dangers of substance abuse, of course, and likely imbibed as much as the next person. The wealthy are entitled to enjoy their riches, after all. 

Those who stood at the base of the mountain–the people who received the dire, critical warning about addiction and who would later go on to bear the brutal totality of overtly punishing legislation–could do nothing but nod their heads in agreement with our nation’s leaders. We were fighting the good fight together. Addiction, drugs, illegal substances, and substance abusers–all of it thrown in a shared trash chute with little regard for subsequent actions.

Much like the Texas-sized mass of plastic floating in the Pacific ocean (portions of it, no doubt, owing their origin to the plethora of orange syringe caps peppering opioid alleyways all over the U.S.), addiction was a monster we tucked under a throw rug, only to see it reemerge as perhaps our greatest miscalculation as an advanced, intelligent species.

When demonizing drugs didn’t keep people away from them, we demonized our people. When demonizing our people only further damaged our addicted citizens, creating a culture of misinformation and malaise towards possible solutions to the addiction crisis, we pulled the plug on the “war on drugs.” Only it was too late.

And that’s where we are. We’re attempting a redo. Oops. Our bad. Sorry about the way we treated our sick for the last 30 years. It turns out they weren’t criminals after all!

In life and in legislation, there are few redos. What’s needed now is wide-sweeping changes to the addiction rhetoric in this nation. It’s not okay for anyone to be given the platform to denounce a section of society for profit, no matter their place in the grand scheme. These judgemental daggers are pointed at you, Mr. Hearst, and anyone else like you who took it upon themselves to taint our public consciousness with nefarious Reefer Madness rumors.  

Like the boy who cried wolf, there were dangers indeed lurking in the woods. Only the threat wasn’t called marijuana. It was called synthetic opioids. And by the time the big, bad wolf greeted us at our door with fangs bare, we were too spent from our previous battles to put up any fight.

Jenn Walker is a freelance writer, blogger, dog-enthusiast, and avid beachgoer living unapologetically in recovery. She writes for Maryville, a medical center focused on addiction treatment in NJ

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