Our biggest problems with drugs in the United States (and much of the world) is knowledge. We don't know what we don't know. A basic understanding of our brains is vital to a basic understanding of intoxication, addiction and recovery.
Dr. Junkie: One Man's Story of Addiction and Crime that will Challenge Everything you Know about the War on Drugs is a book about how our brains work, how drugs work, and how the current system for dealing with drugs is designed to make sure addictions are as devastating as they could possibly be.
So what's my story?
In 2004, I landed in the largest walled prison on Earth, a dungeon in Jackson, Michigan opened in 1934. My addiction to cocaine, heroin and fentanyl had driven me to petty theft, and the small crimes had accumulated until a judge felt I deserved to sit in the penitentiary for 1-5 years. When I was released just under 2 years later, I enrolled in college and started looking into what had happened to me and millions of others just like me who appeared to lose themselves in these substances and behaviors. And what I discovered was as mind-blowing as it was liberating.
Humans are hard wired to become addicted to substances and behaviors.
We evolved to hunt and to feast, and to base our moment-to-moment experience of the world on these cycle-repeating frameworks. It isn't just hunting animals. It's also hunting a good deal on Amazon, or reading an enjoyable book, or solving a riddle, or building a project. Any time we are actively engaged in solving some sort of real-time goal, we are engaged in a hunt-focused activity. Stimulants (like cocaine and methamphetamine) activate the same circuits in our brains as hunting in the wild, so they make us feel alive and engaged, as if we are in the midst of doing something exciting. Other drugs (like heroin or fentanyl) activate the feast circuits, mimicking the experience of having successfully achieved or captured something we have been hunting for some time. We feel fulfilled and satiated, as if we are enjoying the fruit of our labor after a long hunt for some reward. This basic understanding of the human mind is the doorway out of our cultural quagmire of addiction and overdose.
There is a better way. It includes giving up our faulty notions of tough love, which encourage us to turn away from our friends and family members when they are struggling and need us the most. Instead of sending users to the streets to buy polluted dope from underworld dealers, we should send drug users to doctors, therapists, counselors and social workers to get their drugs, along with a healthy dose of whatever medical or mental health care they need.
Ending the war on drugs is the only path out of our current crisis. Our jails and prisons will empty out. Our street violence will plummet. And our overdose rates will fall through the floor on the heels of legalization.