The revealing Times series about addiction and a successful strategy for assisting its victims, written by Barry Stringfellow, underscores dependency’s ravaging effects, for the user of course, and for loved ones who suffer too. It is heartening to learn that there are fresh ways to soothe and perhaps quell the desperate desires, with counseling and medication.
It is magic thinking to believe that by arresting users, users who become suppliers, or dealers, pro and amateur, who go big time we can defeat the scourge. There is a huge and growing appetite for the product and a devilish and devoted entrepreneurial industry working daily to make sales.
There is another aspect of the problem, one that is less personal and whose appalling influences are more widely distributed. That is the devastation caused to communities large and small that are afflicted, as nearly every community of whatever size is, with the curse of addiction among a share of its population and the derivative harmful effects of the misery and the mayhem. The dismembered families, the criminality, the relentless costs of enforcement, adjudication, incarceration, supervised probation, publicly funded rehabilitation — all of this ravages the community family, just as it does the addict, the addict’s family, his or her employer, friends and acquaintances.
How to do better is the question. Certainly none of the efforts made today — treatment public or private, enforcement, the courts — can be neglected. But perhaps they can be coordinated. Too many communities have failed to notice the creeping devastation of drug use and its ancillary effects. When they do notice, they and their leaders are shocked to learn that the prevalence of the problem is more intense and destructive than they had imagined. The Vineyard community — thanks to the diligent work of police who, almost weekly, arrest dealers; and thanks to the surprise and disappointment attached to the work of the court system here, which fails to notice, one supposes, and certainly fails to come to grips with the easy recidivism of the first, then second, then third time losers; and thanks to the Youth Task Force survey results showing an increasing attachment to marijuana among high school age children; and, yes, thanks to series like the one that has appeared in The Times — understands the baleful and depressing expansion of drug use and drug peddling in its midst.
Here’s a moment for concerted action, for thoughtful discussions among treatment specialists, support groups, police, clergy, the courts, health care leaders, political leaders, and social service organizations, with an eye to a coordinated community strategy to stem this destructive influence.