The War on Drugs of the 20th century continues today with a more appropriate military metaphor. The armies of good and evil are not lined up on fronts. Now good fights a complexity of scattered forces – ISIS and others – as well as terrorists within our communities. The 21st century War on Drugs has metaphorical car bombers (drunk drivers), battles for urban territory, and terrorist enclaves in remote areas (Ozark meth labs).
Drug wars also take place in historical and political contexts. In his review of Brain-Robbers: How Alcohol, Cocaine, Nicotine, and Opiates Have Changed Human History, Ben Sessa observes, “This war [on drugs} has always been about bigotry and economics and not, as we are still told today, about health or morals” (para. 4). He writes,
[W]e see racism, prohibition, greed, oppression and control of the poor; our chronic inability to see the wood for the trees that allows these passionately sought-after drugs to run roughshod over human sensibility and judgment. (para. 3)
Later in his review Sessa adds this is “still a battle of ‘good versus evil’; a war where the casualties are common people, collateral damage in political greed games . . . ” (para. 8).
Where are psychologists in this battle? Our clinics surely do some heavy lifting when treating addictions and mounting prevention programs. I am not a clinician so can only admire those professionals who face this challenge. I wonder, however, if there is agreement that social control of the poor and the economics of the drug market make this challenge more difficult. If so, is there much that psychologists can do, individually or collectively, about those factors? And do we only fight this battle when it reaches our middle-class suburban enclaves?
By Ben Sessa
PsycCRITIQUES, 2015 Vol 60(14)