I participated in a town hall meeting last evening about an apparent increase in drug use and drug-related deaths locally. One thing (among many) got me thinking afterwards. A couple of the presenters pushed the point that the young people who have died or otherwise used and abused drugs (heroin being a primary focus of the event) bought the drugs outside the area they lived in. This is not really true according to our investigations and other information sources, but that is the story they pushed. I made the point that these young people (the audience being primarily parents) are, quite often, getting their drugs in their own neighborhoods. Sure, before they are resold here someone gets them in Chicago or Milwaukee, but the end users can and do get the drugs close to home.
One speaker described how dangerous and scary the places where drugs are sold are. How his agents, when they do drug buys, have 4 back-ups watching over them to help if the need arises. How violence can erupt at any time. (Although it seems to me that they are the police and their buying introduces variables that do not exist in the more typical drug buy.) I know some of these places are rough and potentially dangerous, like places on the west side of Chicago. But to painting them so ominously, so evil, particularly areas near where I live (North Chicago and Waukegan were specifically mentioned) does seem a bit melodramatic (for crying out loud, I live in Waukegan with my family). Realize that nearly all drug buys go off without a hitch or we would have dead addicts littering our streets.
My thought here is that this smacks of feeling the need to paint these folks as the other, the evil other. Demonize them and we don’t really have to deal with them. They are outside our communities. They live and do evil things elsewhere. Our community is safe. It (the bad stuff) is only outside our community. Sure sometimes it creeps in and affects one of our own. But it is not us, it is them. It is evil contagion from outside. We don’t have to deal with the ickiness, just continue to buff up our stuff.
One of the points I hope I made was that young people are getting the drugs, quite often, near home. The drug sellers are often “us”. The drug users and abusers are “us”. They are among us. Very often you can’t tell by looking at them. They work in our stores and restaurants. They walk by us on the streets and go to school with our kids. They aren’t fiends. They don’t look like the alleged meth user pictures on the Internet that one of the presenters showed.
We as a community need to respond to saves others in our community. Our focus must be more than arrest and imprison. We must make sure help and treatment is available. We must get rid of the stigma and shame that often accompanies seeking and getting help for drug use or mental health issues. “They” are not “others”, they are “us”.