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War on Drugs Turns 50 As Illicit Drug Use Increases

Nancy Reagan Just Say No To Drugs

Nancy Reagan at a “Just Say No” rally at the White House, May 1986

I joined a group of writers publishing journal posts every day during the month of June. I thought it would motivate me to write but I just ended up feeling guilty for not writing like I said I would.

When I’m staring up at the ceiling at night I have so much to say. So, I get up and go downstairs to write, but instead, I search the Internet for how to add pagination to WordPress posts. Tinkering on this website is incredibly satisfying even if it causes me to avoid writing. As long as I’m testing new plugins or redesigning pages I’m at least building the vessel that might eventually carry my words across the waters, waves, and oceans. 

A Deeply Troubled Place

I am so far from the ocean and so landlocked in the Heartland where almost everyone is bridled by the politics of retribution. Its hands are wrapped around the collective neck, thumbs pressed to the throat of vulnerable people who sell their silence for meager wages and some semblance of stability. Despite all its progress, America is a deeply troubled place. Backward, even. Still, I mostly love her.

I have lived in the Heartland since I was 15 and all the problems we had back in the 1980s are all the problems we have today. Plus, we have some new ones, and some of the old ones have gotten worse. Although many people have worked hard to make things better so much of their good work is undone by one manmade crisis after another.

Nancy Reagan Attending a "Just Say No" Rally with Children at Kaiser Arena in Oakland California

Nancy Reagan attending a “Just Say No” rally with children at Kaiser Arena in Oakland California, November 1985

I learned about manmade crises versus natural disasters when I was studying for my accreditation in public relations. The manmade stuff is almost always harder to recover from. Tornadoes may blow through the Heartland ripping houses from their foundations and tearing children from their mothers’ arms, but nothing is more violent here than greed. It is a brush hog plowing through the soft waving wheat of unsuspecting people. Heavy, spinning blades cutting up families and never stopping on impact. It’s disgusting.

The Opioid Crisis

The opioid crisis is the most current example. It has destroyed so many lives in the Heartland.  And, not just here. New Hampshire has pretty much been ground zero for opioids. Someday, if the earth survives, a generation not yet born will recount how their ancestors died from opioid addiction.

This is probably the worst manmade crisis I’ve witnessed during my lifetime and it has pretty much made me lose all faith in mankind. I’ve watched all the documentaries about this crisis that are available on Netflix. The Pharmacist was especially troubling and tragic. The people we trusted to heal our children, parents, siblings, coworkers, and friends — Big Pharma and doctors — pretty much killed them for money. I hate to sound like an idiot oversimplifying the problem but this is what I’ve come to believe.

According to the CDC, more than 760,000 people have died since 1999 from a drug overdose. Nearly 500,000 of them died from an overdose involving prescription or illicit opioids. In 2019, an estimated 10.1 million people aged 12 or older misused opioids in the past year. Specifically, 9.7 million people misused prescription pain relievers and 745,000 people used heroin.

50th Anniversary of the War on Drugs

This month marks the 50th anniversary of the so-called war on drugs, which President Nixon launched on June 18, 1971. At that time, the oldest Gen-Xers (the birth years are 1961 to 1981) were 10-years-old. Sadly, over the last 50 years, the United States has spent more than a trillion dollars fighting illicit drug use only to see it on the rise again. I see it everywhere, but nowhere more than Wal-Mart where it feels like half the people shopping are broken pieces of their former selves. So many beautiful people hollowed out by drugs. I remember when people looked different. I remember going to Wal-Mart as a girl in the 1980s and as a college student in the 1990s. It wasn’t filled with dozens of people who look like they’re suffering from the flu, rashes, exhaustion, and hunger all at the same time.

Nancy Reagan Speaking at Microphone While Hosting "Just Say No" to Drugs Rally in The First Lady'S Garden, Washington, DC

Nancy Reagan speaks at a “Just Say No” to Drugs Rally in, Washington, DC, September 1987

Just Say No and D.A.R.E.

In 1980, First Lady Nancy Reagan expressed a desire to educate youth about the dangers of drugs. In 1982, the phrase “Just Say No” emerged when she was visiting an elementary school in California. A schoolgirl asked her what to do if she was offered drugs by her friends and the First Lady responded, “Just say ‘no’.” Before long, the campaign was in full swing with Just Say No clubs and school-run anti-drug programs forming all over the country. Kids and teenagers even signed pacts not to experiment with drugs.

The following year, former LAPD chief Daryl Gates and the Los Angeles Unified School District, launched Drug Abuse Resistance Education. D.A.R.E. was a program to prevent the use of controlled drugs, membership in gangs, and violent behavior.

A direct relationship between reduced drug use and the Just Say No campaign has never been established. Studies have also repeatedly shown that D.A.R.E. was ineffective or that its effectiveness could not be proven.

Nancy Reagan with Children Taking Part in a "Just Say No" Walk at The Washington Monument

5/11/1988 Nancy Reagan with children taking part in a “Just Say No” walk at the Washington Monument

There’s no good way to end this post. I am sorry for everyone who turns to drugs to ease their pain, be it physical, emotional, or financial. I am sorry for the hell on earth that people live in and from which they struggle to escape. I’m sorry for all the Sindis who have died in jail and the fathers who mourn their sons. I am sorry for Elizabeth who played the piano, flute, and guitar. I am sorry for so many people. Andrew, Emily, Jason, Derek, Daniel, Shawn, James, William, Michael, Erik, Samantha, Lisa, and the list goes on and on and on and on…

 

Gen X Blog Jennifer Chronicles

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4 Comments

  1. Robert

    The only drug I ever had a problem l me with is alcohol. Including as I write this. I try to understand those who misuse prescription drugs but also feel for the people who need the relief from constant pain or the people who suffer from from social anxiety and can use medication appropriately to control it. We don’t need to go to the opposite extreme and prevent people who need medicine from getting prescriptions.

    Reply
    • Jennifer

      Hi, Robert. Thanks for stopping by. I try to understand the people who struggle with drug addiction, too. I don’t judge them because there but for the grace of God go I. I know a lot of either horribly painful or ridiculously random (including genetic predispositions) led to their addictions. People need treatment, which ironically, often comes from Big Pharma. I have personally known more people who struggle with alcohol including a friend who lost her husband in a car wreck. She climbed inside the bottle and didn’t come out of it for 10 years. Life is so unbelievably hard and unfair. May you have peace on your journey and new miracles this very day.

      Reply
  2. Mailoc

    “I see it everywhere, but nowhere more than Wal-Mart where it feels like half the people shopping are broken pieces of their former selves. So many beautiful people hollowed out by drugs. I remember when people looked different. I remember going to Wal-Mart as a girl in the 1980s and as a college student in the 1990s. It wasn’t filled with dozens of people who look like they’re suffering from the flu, rashes, exhaustion, and hunger all at the same time.” Thank you for confirming my hunch. Although I have been in the US for a short time something always tells me that things were not as they look today. Too bad I bite my tongue to write here everything I think. Courage and Strength!

    Reply
    • Jennifer

      You are welcome to say anything here. I appreciate hearing your thoughts. People absolutely did not look as ravaged 20 years ago as they do today. My husband and I talk about it all the time. We are a nation in free-fall. People badly need help. My prayers seem so small…

      Reply

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