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February 24, 2005

On Drugs …

I knew, once and for all, that we lost the war on drugs about two decades ago when I was at a restaurant in Lincolnwood, Illinois.

After a sumptuous meal, I went to the washroom to relieve myself. As my gaze inevitably wandered downward into the urinal, I noticed the red strainer was emblazoned with the legend “Just Say No To Drugs.”

Ahh. That’s where people will be most likely to reach understanding and awareness. I thought it wouldn’t work, but heck, it would be a great test. If, after a while, we saw a significant reduction in drug use by men and not women (who, after all, rarely use urinals), I would know my instincts were wrong, that “Just Say No” was a good idea, and that urinals were a good place to preach the word.

I’ve been doing communications, education, lobbying, and political work in the social services field since 1971. I was director of communications and education for Chicago’s Alternatives, Inc. drug abuse prevention program and a co-founder of the National Runaway Switchboard, where I held a similar position. And I know exactly why we lost the war on drugs – and trust me, I’ll have some good news for you at the end of all this.

It’s simple. We lost the war on drugs because “they” wouldn’t let “us” tell the truth.

The truth was, and continues to be, the A#1 reason why people use drugs – illegal and otherwise – is because it’s fun.

Heaven forbid we should admit that using drugs could be fun. “They” tell parents that drugs are forced down their susceptible but otherwise perfect little angel’s throat is because of pushers and peer-group pressure – those evil brats who want to drag your kids to the nearest coven. “They” say using drugs is a sign of depression or some other psychological problem. “They” perpetuate the myth of the pusher – as if any drug dealer would ever have to work that hard. If drugs could be sold on eBay, the bidding would melt down their servers.

“They” have been terrorizing the masses with lists of ways to tell your kids are using drugs. Is your teenager moody? Has your teen changed his or her habits and interests? Found new friends? Stay up late? Has your teenager been more secretive? Not doing as well in school as you think he or she should? Is your kid getting kind of belligerent or disrespectful? Use bad language? Damn, it sounds like The Music Man, doesn’t it?

This isn’t a list of symptoms denoting your teenager is using drugs. This is a list of symptoms denoting your teenager is a teenager. “They” are fools, and they have been for a long, long time. For more than a century, “they” have used these same arguments against adolescent sex – with equal success.

To paraphrase Thomas Newman and Cyndi Lauper, kids just want to have fun.

Instead of being honest about drugs, “they” push lies and crap. And who are “they”? Many of them are people who make an enormous amount of money pushing this line. They are the PTAs, the churches, the self-help industry, the psychological help industry, the pharmaceutical houses, the clinics that want to cure your kids, and, yes, “they” are all too many of the drug abuse programs that are forced to toe the line in order to receive continued funding. Sure, there are a lot of really good people out there trying their best. Most of them will leave in frustration and take jobs where they can actually pay the rent.

Okay. Here’s the good news.

For generations now, most kids haven’t been buying it, and, at long last, parents aren’t buying it either. There’s a big to-do right now about how today’s parents are “tolerant” of their children’s drug use. Looking past the lead paragraphs, what it boils down to is that these parents are honest with their children about their own drug use, and are more understanding of their children’s behavior.

Here are four absolute facts.

One: the overwhelming majority of people who used drugs in the 1970s and 1980s are just fine today.

Two: kids know this.

Three: kids have always been extremely sensitive to their parents’ hypocrisy.

Four: many of today’s parents know this.

You want to know how parents can curb their kids’ destructive behaviors? Be a family, and be honest. Have your meals together, talk with your kids, listen to them, respect their feelings, remember how you felt when you were that age, don’t hand your kids the pre-fabricated line, and most of all, never, ever lie to them about your experiences – or about anything else. Don’t be afraid to tell your kids why you used drugs and/or drank alcohol, and why you’ve stopped. If you haven’t stopped, tell them why you haven’t. If you don’t want them to do what you do or what you did, say so – and explain why. Tell your kids you’d like them to be better than you, to learn from your faults as well as your good points.

Just think it over in advance, and remember, be completely truthful.

Posted by Mike Gold at February 24, 2005 09:41 PM

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Amen. I especially liked the "Penn and Teller" episode on marijuana where one of the people asks, "How many people have died from using marijauna?" Those who have a vested interest in keeping up the "war" on drugs are making a great deal of money, whereas if we decriminalized use the prison population would shrink. Thereby saving enough to make a nice dent on the deficit. Personally, I used drugs when I was young, but stopped when I was young as well. Another government program designed to scare us and distract us from what they are really doing.

Posted by: Karen at February 25, 2005 12:29 AM

The most effective method I've used is to get kids hooked on technology--teach them how to use computer programs to make music, movies, whatver. It's way more fun than drugs, you have something to show for it afterwards, and it's something that can't be done without a clear mind.

Boredom is the enemy. Drugs are a viable solution to boredom. We have to provide something that is at least equally viable.

Posted by: Bill Mulligan at February 25, 2005 10:16 AM

Well said, Mike. I remember that shortly after John Belushi died, his widow Judy said essentially the same thing--that drugs are fun. The press and most of the do-gooders went apoplectic. But it was Del Close (surprise, surprise) who pointed out that of course drugs were fun--nobody would ever start doing them in the first place if they weren't! But even today, no one is allowed to say anything of the kind...

Posted by: Howard Johnson at February 25, 2005 01:19 PM

"I remember that shortly after John Belushi died, his widow Judy said essentially the same thing--that drugs are fun. The press and most of the do-gooders went apoplectic. But it was Del Close (surprise, surprise) who pointed out that of course drugs were fun--nobody would ever start doing them in the first place if they weren't! But even today, no one is allowed to say anything of the kind..."

Well, it's true enough but then again, LOT'S of stupid things are fun. It's a lot of fun to go 120 miles and hour but if some kids wraps his car around a telephone pole and his mom explains it away by saying "Hey, it was fun!", you might expect some criticism.

At any rate, it's an overstatement to say that no one is allowed to say anything of the kind since this line of thinking has become a staple of standup comidians. It's Bill Maher's favorite subject.

Posted by: Bill Mulligan at February 25, 2005 01:47 PM

The war on drugs failed for the same reason prohibition failed: If there's enough demand to make the risk profitable, someone will provide the supply.

The desire to self-medicate is not unnatural, nor is it restricted to our species. At some point during the "war on drugs" some government official made a comment along these lines: If you're living in poverty in the ghetto, there are worse options than crack cocaine.

I'm not extolling the virtues of crack cocaine, or even suggesting it be legalized. In fact, I think cocaine is a truly insidious drug that should probably remain off limits legally. But if I had to choose, I'd rather my kids smoked pot than drank alcohol, except for the fact that the penalty for getting caught is far greater.

Posted by: Rick Oliver at February 26, 2005 11:40 AM

I think, being a "kid," that yes parents should tell the truth. I am now 21 and at University and I can tell you that all the kids that were told "Drugs are bad, m'kay?" are having a pretty hard time.
They are 1) trying to reconcile the idea that drugs are just bad with the fact that all their new friends are doing them. Or 2. trying to pull their marks back up after their drug/alcohol induced slumber resulted in their receiving what we commonly refer to as "the letter" - the one that says "pull up your marks, junior, or we aren't letting you come back.”
Now, you may think that this is very extreme, however, I assure you: it is not. While my mother always told us, “just let me know if you are going to drink/do drugs – I know you are going to I did” other parents gazed on in horror. Now their horrified gazes are on their own kids, many of whom have dropped out of University or worse - ended up in a court room or drunk tank. While my brother and I are both succeeding at university, knowing that drinking and marijuana aren’t evil or a way to rebel. We have fun, we party, but we also know where to draw the line.
For this outlook I thank my mother. She was supportive and caring and … well … had some common sense.

Posted by: Allison at February 26, 2005 02:48 PM


One of the important things, however, is that not all drugs are created equal. Pot, booze and LSD are simply not the same as Heroin or Cocaine, nor are the the same as X or Oxycontin. Some drugs are more okay than others, simply from a danger standpoint.

Posted by: Londo at March 1, 2005 10:51 AM

I live at 16804 Commonwealth in Seattle. Been up here before?

Posted by: Mike Flacklestein at August 8, 2006 12:16 PM

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