David Borden, Executive Director, [email protected]
The subject of the panel-that-wasn't-to-be was methamphetamine, addiction and the "meth epidemic." My role was to question the validity of calling it an epidemic -- I don't think the numbers remotely justify that term, for a variety of reasons we've written about in this newsletter in recent months. (The articles were what got us the gig.) And I was to question the policies, point out the failure of the drug war and make the case for ending prohibition.
It was a surreal experience. Though one of the other panelists had a policy orientation, a former prosecutor (also bumped), the others were celebrities of different levels in recovery from addiction or with family members who had suffered from addiction: Jody Sweetin, a childhood actress who starred in the series "Full House," rescued from meth addiction through an intervention by her former cast-mates including the Olsen twins -- her breaking interview that day on Good Morning America was what lengthened that section of the cable show and bumped the panel discussion. Duane Chapman (AKA "Dog the Bounty Hunter"), whose son Taggart is serving hard time for robbery committed to finance a meth habit he had, and Dog's fiance Beth. Sara Hejny, a Minnesota beauty queen who got hooked on meth and who was the subject of an episode of A&E's reality program "Intervention."
The celebrities seemed to know each other -- I could see and hear them conversing via the satellite feed while I waited to go on. I felt rather incongruous in the midst of that particular group. Though I don't think they could see me over the feed. Then again, I'm not sure they couldn't see me. Again, sort of surreal.
There's a risk when calling into question the extent of a drug problem that one can be misperceived as making light of the perils of drugs and addiction. That's not the case with me, however, and in fact I found all of the stories very moving. One of the reasons I am in this is that I believe our current system worsens the harms of addiction by making it much more likely to lead to crime, disease or death. In addition to facts and stats and analogies to prohibition of alcohol, I was prepared to make that point. Our side has people who've dealt with addictions too. We have parents who've lost children to addictions -- but who realize that prohibition made it more likely that their kids would not make it through.
I was ready to point out that Sara and Taggart probably would not have resorted to crime to feed their addiction if meth had been legal and affordable rather than prohibited with its price driven up as a result. I was going to note that under the laws in place in our nation, people like Sara and Jody could instead have been sent to prison with long sentences. And I was going to argue that exaggerating the impact a drug is having, even a drug like meth that has real downsides, has not led us to good things like treatment, but instead to a set of inhumane drug war policies that are hurting the very people we claim to want to help. And so forth.
I give the show credit for trying to include me in their discussion. Perhaps at some point that will happen. But there's a lesson here. Even for a show where the people wanted to include our viewpoint (which is by no means every show), the pressures and necessities of the genre forced them to instead go with the simple and the celebrity as it turned out. And though as I've said I found all the stories legitimately moving, without our side too it's an incomplete picture -- because without our side of it those truths tend to lead to misconceptions and mistakes. But it's hard to compete with celebritydom, even when the right people want to do the right thing.
So much for the fast lane, at least for that week -- maybe another week!