The UNDOPED CUT by Jim Recktenwald, CADC, MSW 33
Denial: Part III
Addiction becomes a phenomenon whose definition is “worked out” by whatever group is contemplating the mess in its midst. Member X is the identified addict because he or she demonstrates 1) some easily recognized odd behaviors 2) that other members agree are not “ok.” Addiction’s definition becomes the property of persons who have common beliefs about it. Those beliefs are as varied from one group or family to the next group or family as there are shared sets of experience about it. Unfortunately, the dominant variants defining addiction, belonging as they do to segments of society, also allow those segments to define denial, when the whole of society is to some extent or another “in denial.”
In our culture, the difficulty this poses has been expressed in the “war on drugs.” Some 12-year old from the wrong side of the tracks smoking dope in the school bathroom will get sent to “Juvie.” A 12-year old across town will be referred for counseling—because s/he is known to be a “good kid.” In that community, a key element in the definition of aberrant behavior is where the tracks ran through town and where one lives in relation to the tracks. Since this “agreement” varies from one community to the next and from one segment of each community to another segment of the same community—it is really hard to know where to start, with whom to start, in order to reduce the demand for drugs that exists. That is the difficulty caused by varied perceptions of “addiction, ” “denial,” and “drug problems” within any community of people.
A better example of this has played out in the sentencing disparities between penalties set for cocaine use and those meted out for crack use. According to the Drug Policy Alliance’s fact sheet for “Cocaine and Crack,” (downloaded from http://www.drugpolicy.org/drug-facts/cocaine-and-crack-facts , on June 14, 2013, at 10:13am).
• “Many myths surround cocaine and crack cocaine use. Despite media reports claiming crack to be addictive with a single use, the best data, from government-sponsored surveys, have consistently shown that less than one out of four people who ever tried the drug used it more than once. Media stories of a “crack baby” epidemic, which began to appear in the late 1980s, are now considered greatly exaggerated. Research now indicates that other factors, such as poverty, are responsible for many of the ills previously thought to be associated with cocaine and crack cocaine use.
• “Criminal penalties for possession and sale of powder and crack cocaine are severe. Despite recent federal reforms of crack sentencing laws, much higher penalties still exist for possession and sale of crack, despite the fact that, pharmacologically, it is the same drug as cocaine. Possession of 28 grams of crack cocaine yields a five-year mandatory minimum sentence for a first offense; it takes 500 grams of powder cocaine to prompt the same sentence.”
Just two days ago, a friend of mine told another associate that cocaine is addictive on the first use, and crack babies continue to be the most serious newborn health issue facing society. Neither was open to any other presentation of the facts. Probably, neither realizes that their misperceptions about Crack/Cocaine—and those of the public at large—are largely responsible for extreme racial disparity problems in the enforcement of laws governing this one substance.
After this series on Denial, we may look at the price many of us are paying for the real problems our denial as a country (it’s US) is costing. Til next time: Peace!