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Millennials & the Legacy of the War on Drugs: A Call for Recovery and Reform Just Say Yes to Change

Updated: Oct 7, 2023

Continuing in our journey for National Recovery Month; for millennials, this month holds particular significance. As we are a generation that grew up with the repercussions of the War on Drugs. As bystanders of a criminalized justice system for drug offenses and victims of the overdose crisis, millennials have unique insights into the urgent need for reform and increased resources for those struggling with addiction. In this blog post, we will explore the impact of the War on Drugs. Discussing the unconscious bias's that were instilled in us, and the steps necessary to address the ongoing challenges we face.

This week I received a text from my high school best friend about a friend of ours who had passed away from a suspected overdose. While saddened I was not shocked, not because of the decaying moral compass of this beautiful soul. But because of the staggering numbers of those I have know and lost to the disease of addiction. You see I grew up in a world time where school assemblies were organized to shame and shock you about the perils of drugs and alcohol. Starting as young as kindergarden, if you were lucky you could get the multicolored neon D.A.R.E. shirt so show others that YOU were one of the " good" ones.

At the time of it's inception the D.A.R.E. lacked substantial evidence supporting its effectiveness, however was adopted nationwide. Simultaneously, Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl Gates , advocated for stringent measures against casual drug user. Quoted as saying "casual drug users should be taken out and shot.” So you can see where our numbness to the death of of peers began. I mean is someone overdoses they clearly deserved it right?

They were a lost cause, a degenerate who got what they deserved.

The number of individuals imprisoned for nonviolent drug offenses surged from 50,000 in 1980 to surpass 400,000 by 1997. While the hysteria of drug abuse fizzled out as a major public crisis by 1989 policies remained and in fact only began ramping up. In 1992, President Clinton advocated for prioritizing treatment over imprisonment as part of his campaign platform. However, he declined a recommendation to reduce the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine offenses. Additionally, he disregarded the advice of his health secretary, who had suggested lifting the federal ban on funding syringe access programs. I would venture to say that in 1992 Mrs. Clinton wasn't the only white lady residing at Pennsylvania Ave, but we wont talk about that. The War on Drugs and Its Impact goes far beyond the criminalization of Addiction and stigmatization. Millennials grew up in a society that viewed addiction as a moral failing rather than a treatable health condition, which forced so many of us into the shadows of guilt and shame. The opioid epidemic; a direct consequence of the War on Drugs, has claimed countless lives leaving lasting emotional scars. We have had to un-learn EVERYTHING we were taught about addiction, mental health and access to care, exacerbating the crisis both existentially and politically.

When I stopped drinking 10 years ago, I sat in countless rooms listening to peoples horror stories about the ways and means to get more. I lied to those outside of the rooms of recovery about where I had been and why I couldn't meet for a drink after work. I mourned this aspect of myself, believing I had exchanged my vitality and wit for a sense of sober solace. It's almost as if I thought all the excitement in the world would disappear, while people enjoyed their weekends, I'd be at home, keeping company with my cat. Spoiler alert, that did not happen, but I did learn to enjoy my own company. I learned that my desire to escape my feelings and to be liked, stemmed from a sense of insecurity. A lifetime of people pleasing and trying to fit in, I learned how to have empathy for myself and those around me.

Millennials have not only observed but also personally experienced the profound repercussions of the War on Drugs. These firsthand encounters have ignited a deep commitment within us to advocate for change, pursue reform, and extend support to those in recovery. As we mark National Recovery Month and continue beyond, it becomes increasingly vital to acknowledge the substantial contributions of millennials in reshaping our approach to addiction. We are striving for a more compassionate and efficient system, one that prioritizes recovery, health, and overall well-being for all.

In this journey, we are also emphasizing a shift in perspective. It's essential that we become gentler with ourselves, letting go of the outdated "good vs. bad" mindset, which has often been measured against a standard set by a generation of old white men who have rarely examined their own roles in these complex issues. It's time for a more inclusive and empathetic approach, one that recognizes the multifaceted nature of addiction and recovery, and acknowledges that progress is often made through collective efforts and mutual understanding rather than rigid judgments. So this week I challenge you to look around and uncover your unconscious bias's and see what pops up. Where do you see the subliminal messaging to change the way you feel through drugs and alcohol, and what are you chasing?

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