Author: Justin Mckibben
The ‘War on Drugs’ is not something that anyone would say should be taken lightly. It is true that addiction to drugs and alcohol is a dangerous disease, and it is true that it has affected the lives of so many people across the world, but drug fear mongering is dangerous as well.
All of these tactics prove ineffective because they ignore the basic realities of the circumstances they seek to overcome. That includes the fact that addiction is a disease, and that these witch-hunts for addicts as criminals or degenerates push people away from getting the help they need. Here are 3 reasons drug fear mongering is dangerous, and to prove the point we will look at details from specific examples.
- Drug fear mongering can actually (ironically) promote drug use
-Example: D.A.R.E. Program
Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) is a very popular program that was created to combat drug and alcohol addiction by trying to educate kids at a young age. Although D.A.R.E. was designed with the best intentions it is completely ineffective and sometimes even counterproductive. That conclusion was actually reached by the congressional General Accounting Office (GAO), the U.S. Surgeon General, the National Academy of Sciences, and the U.S. Department of Education. Because of the D.A.R.E. programs inability to actually effectively address addiction, the federal government now prohibits schools from spending their Safe and Drug Free Schools funding on D.A.R.E.
The irony of the situation is that based on the fact that after being presented with the concept of D.A.R.E. to keep an eye out for those around you using drugs or drinking, the vast majority of young people greatly exaggerate in their minds the quantity and frequency of drinking among their peers. Therefore, they tend to drink (or drink more) than they would otherwise, in an effort to “fit in.”
So because of the style of awareness D.A.R.E. tried to promote was fueled with paranoia, it actually made things worse by planting the idea to use drug into the minds of children because they believed everyone was doing it.
- Drug fear mongering creates false information and panic
-Example: 80’s Crack Baby Scare
Drug fear mongering also tends to take a ‘boogie-man’ approach to addressing the issue of drugs and alcohol. One of the worst parts of fear mongering is that quite often there is false information that is adopted as fact because the media hopes to use it as a powerful tool to draw a lot of attention to an issue by making it seem more urgent and magnifying the horrors of addiction.
Over the decades of the twentieth century, drug use has gone through cycles of intense public awareness and concern and relative indifference. For some of these decades reformers, the public, the media, or legislators focus on a specific drug which stands in for or represents the drug problem generally. The late 1980s witnessed a drug “panic,” “crisis,” or “scare” specific to cocaine, or more specifically crack cocaine. Drug use generally came to be seen as the social problem of the decade and emerged into the forefront like never before. This was strange because drug use had been on the rise for several years by the time it caught media attention in 1985, yet people were rushed into fear as if it fell out of nowhere.
Widespread use of crack cocaine during the 80’s led to the “Crack Baby” scare, when babies born to crack cocaine users sometimes had symptoms including but not limited to jitteriness and smaller heads. Studies at the time blamed prenatal drug use, and experts suggested that the affected children had irreversible brain damage and predicted dire futures for them. These reports led to widespread media coverage featuring breathless headlines and heart-rending images of tiny sick newborns hooked up to hospital machines.
In recent years experts have mostly discounted any link, noting that so-called crack babies often were born prematurely, which could account for many of their early symptoms. Studies that tracked children beyond infancy have failed to find any severe outcomes. Crack-exposed teens had lower scores on developmental tests than other children but their scores were still within normal limits, so the panic that was induced by the media was quite baseless information that was used to fan the flames of the war on drugs with fear in the 1980’s.
- Drug fear mongering promotes prisons and not proper treatment for addiction
-Example: Heroin Epidemic
In comparison to the 1980’s ‘Crack Baby’ Panic, America is currently experiencing what the media is announcing as a ‘Heroin Epidemic’ that is sweeping the nation. It is true that recently the numbers of heroin addicts recorded has increased, and the use of heroin has spread, however the real question is why it has suddenly become an ‘epidemic’.
The National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported that America had 373,000 users in 2007 and 669,000 in 2012. The increase is largely attributed to heroin being much cheaper than prescription opiates, which have become increasingly expensive due to reforms combating prescription pill addiction.
That being said, by fear mongering the drug use in this situation, we are only putting the real problem behind us, which is that the country has ineffective incarceration policies for the individuals who are arrested in possession, while actually treating drug addiction as a disease is being largely swept under the rug. Or at least it has up to this point. This kind of publicity controlled through propaganda only prohibits people from seeking help, and it makes some addicts believe they must fit into a certain stigma in order to need treatment.
By putting the fear into the American people about the use of heroin and other opiates, it may be creating healthy fear for those who are not yet using, but that is a small victory compared to the thousands of addicts out there who become terrified of getting honest about their opiate addiction and seeking treatment for their addiction.
The devastation and the evils of the disease of addiction are all very real and a lot of the truth is scary without the scare tactics. Fear mongering is counter-productive to keeping people informed and helping them equip themselves with the means to recover from their addictions. The sad part is that instead of making people afraid to use drugs, fear mongering makes more addicts and alcoholics afraid to seek help. How can you save your life when you’re scared to death? If you or someone you love is struggling from substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135