Tuesday, September 10, 2002

Noelle Bush's Drug Problem

This news item about Gov. Jeb Bush's daughter's alleged continuing drug problems is really heartbreaking. Some will use this as a political abuse weapon. I would hope that they would regard it the same way as we should regard the drug problems and death of Carroll O'Connor's son, or the recurring legal problems of Robert Downey, Jr: a tragedy that reminds you that contrary to liberal and libertarian thoughts, addiction enslaves people.

Any rational person would recognize that if you are in a court-ordered drug rehab program, you stay clean. Even if you are just going through the motions to make the court happy, rational analysis would suggest that your fastest way out of there and back to your life of drug abuse on the outside is stay clean long enough to finish the program. This suggests that Ms. Bush's problems are pretty darn serious.

I used to work for a company that did pre-employment drug screening, and occasionally did drug screening for those already employed. I must confess that I find such programs distasteful and insulting. But another employee explained the way in which this company did it:

1. Two weeks advance warning that drug screening was coming up.

2. If you failed the drug test, you were warned that, maybe it was a mistake in the lab, so they would come and ask for another sample two weeks hence.

3. If you failed the second time, they referred you to drug counseling to deal with it.

4. If you got belligerent or refused, they canned you.

So what does this tell us? It tells us that the employee with this much opportunity to stop his cocaine, marijuana, amphetamines, etc. either:

1. Couldn't stop.

2. Considered his job less important than his drug habit.

Yes, I expect a lot of you to tell me that the War on Drugs causes enormous problems, driving up the price of drugs, making illegal trafficking more profitable. I agree. Prohibition creates an enormous set of problems, spreading individual crises into social disasters. This is part of why corporate drug testing programs became popular (with a little encouragement from the government); they were an attempt to affect the demand side, not the supply side. The only people injured by reducing demand were the dealers and importers.

Yes, alcohol certainly causes more problems in our society than many of the illegal drugs (though I would argue that on a per capita basis this might not be true for methamphetamines). Having raised children in Sonoma County, California, which is a major producer of alcohol, marijuana, and meth, I can tell you that the case for discouraging alcohol is at least as strong as the argument for discouraging the use of the currently illegal drugs. Imagine a county where many adults supply marijuana and beer to their junior high aged kids. Not surprisingly, Sonoma County has a special full-time unit in the district attorney's office for prosecuting rapes of teenaged girls passed out at parties (not 16, 17, 18 girls, either, but 12, 13, 14). That unit, in some years, is very busy. From talking to other parents, as busy as that unit is, many of these crimes aren't being reported.

The problem isn't just rape. My daughter attended an awful lot of funerals the last two years we lived there. She knew kids who died of cirrhosis of the liver, and many kids killed in drunk driving accidents.

What am I saying? I'm tired of being told by people not just, "Adults should be free to use drugs" (a statement that I reluctantly agree with) but, "There's nothing wrong with getting high." There are people who can drink a beer, and have a glass of wine with dinner, and that's as far as it goes. I used to occasionally drink a glass of champagne at a company celebration once or twice a year, and never felt the urge to start drinking heavily. Lots of people are like that; there are, I'm sure, lots of adults who can smoke pot once or twice a month without turning it into an addiction or a religion.

But there are lots of people, especially kids, who can't take just one drink, or one toke. A 13-year-old's brain is still developing, and messing with it chemically is a dangerous experiment. What I became most tired of, living in Sonoma County, was a society where your kids are made to feel weird or strange for being sober in seventh grade; where your kids are repeatedly offered marijuana, alcohol, and harder drugs for free because drugs are effectively free, and there is so much social pressure to conform, and get high.

If the doper class wants to have places like Sonoma County where, for practical purposes, marijuana is legal, kids drink alcohol while classes are in session (Petaluma High School), kids roll joints in class (Casa Grande High School, also in Petaluma), other drugs are given away in high schools, and intoxication is a citizen's duty, fine. Just let some of us enjoy "backwaters" like Idaho where a majority of teens do not drink or use drugs. (Yeah, there are still places like that.)

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