The Root of America’s Drug Problem

By Mason Mohon | USA

Drugs are a critical issue in contemporary American society. Last month the drug problem in America made headlines once again with Trump’s declaration of the opioid crisis as a health emergency. Drugs are a serious issue, and it is widely known and accepted within libertarian circles that the war on drugs is a complete failure, yet many, including those libertarians, fail to see the heart of the issue, which is an addiction to dangerous substances.

There is a widely held assumption that drug addiction is the sole result of chemical hooks within drugs like heroin or morphine. People go under a few times, and boom, they’re addicted. Many assume that one who would take heroin 20 times over the course of 20 days would be heavily addicted by the 21st day, but that is not always the case. Chemical hooks are not the sole cause of addiction, and alone they are not a substantial enough to cause a drug addiction. Many people who suffer from substantial injuries are met with heavy sedatives for the reduction of pain, which are often more pure versions of the same dulling and numbing drugs one can purchase from dealers in back alleys.

This is a misconception. Addiction to drugs is overwhelmingly misunderstood, which is the reason so many have failed to suggest a proper antidote. In the 70’s, a few experiments were conducted that consisted of rats in cages that were offered two options: cocaine or heroin water, and regular, undrugged water. An overwhelming majority of the rats (nearly 100%) drank the drugged water until death. What should be taken from this seems obvious: humans, like rats, will drug themselves til overdose if the option presents itself. Some saw a very clear issue in this experiment, one of which was Psychology professor Bruce Alexander.

Bruce K. Alexander was a Canadian professor of psychology who was responsible for the Rat Park Study, which was conducted in the late 70’s and released in 1981. The issue he saw with the previous rat experiment was that the rat was alone, and its only options in its entire existence were to drink water or drug water. Alexander conducted another experiment, where he constructed a park for rats. This park included many activities for rats, which included food, friends, tubes to run through, and just about anything else to provide rats with a functioning social environment. Within this park was also the jug of water containing the drugs, which happened to go untouched. The conclusion drawn was that the opposite to addiction to drugs is not sobriety, but rather a connection to the world around the rats. The rat friends played a critical role in keeping them from the drugs, and this connection seems to be something our society is missing.

The experiment, though, has received criticism, particularly from UCLA and California State University Lecturer and Psychology Ph.D. Adi Jaffe. He wrote in Psychology Today that human addiction cannot find a solution from this situation, for we do not have some sort of director to create a utopian park where we can indulge ourselves to our heart’s desire without the need of drugs. Along with that fact, humans are profoundly more complex than rats and have a lot more going on. Jaffe is right, we do not have a solution within this study, but we can definitely identify a problem: a lack of inter-human connectivity.

Moreover, this experiment was not solely conducted on rats. The same experiment seemed to manifest itself in humans even earlier in the 70’s. That is, during the Vietnam War. Investigation during the war’s 16th year, 1971, lead the U.S. government and public to discover that 20% of current servicemen within the war were addicted to heroin, while 40% of troops had at least tried it. Along with heroin, other drugs were rampant. Post World War 2 research was light in the realm of the effects of drugs on a soldier’s performance, yet the U.S. government happily provided the military with drugs anyway. The suggested amount was 20 mg of dextroamphetamine for 48 hours of combat readiness, but that was barely followed, and the soldiers would be handed drugs like children being handed candy on Halloween night. A vast array of drugs were employed for these soldiers, leading the Vietnam War to be considered one of, if not the first pharmacological war.

The number of heroin users in the military force was expectedly alarming, and Nixon hastily declared the war on drugs to prevent drug use at home. When the now-veterans returned home, though, the results were absolutely astounding. One study, in particular, reported that when the soldiers returned to the United States, 95% of the veterans were able to eliminate the addiction completely almost overnight. This was not the result of Nixon’s drug war, though, because the regular heroin addiction train remained on track, with a 90% post-rehab relapse rate continuing to exist.

This phenomenon was because of the phenomenal environmental change, from one of the most brutal warscapes America has ever taken part in, back to the U.S.A. where the soldiers could spend time with friends and family once again. This was just like the case with the rats, except for the fact that the rats had no war to fight. The rats and soldiers alike bent towards drug addiction when put into a negative or lacking environment, but when surrounded with general positivity (a return home to friends) they were not subject to the same issues of addiction.

The root of addiction is not the drug itself, full of “chemical hooks” with minor effect. It is much larger; it is a lack of connectivity between humans. Drug addiction itself is not a problem, but rather, the problem is the distancing of humans from one another, perpetuated by a technological revolution allowing humans to “connect” across the cloud without connecting the way we have been biologically engineered to. Humans don’t love life, so they try to escape through things like drugs, pornography, binge watching of television, or overeating. These are all the consequences of a disconnected society. The state cannot force us to connect, but it sure is not helping that they continue to use the force of law against addicts while seeming to ignore the root cause of the problem itself.

The problem is not a simple one that can be solved by a statist’s government or an anarchist’s spontaneous order. It is one that is going to need to be solved by increasing human to human interaction in your own life, rather than the increasing isolation of the human in today’s world.