Since the initial tour for Beautiful Boy wound down, I've continued to hear from others suffering from the disease of addiction. Sometimes Karen and I sit together on the couch and read their letters. People write about how their own or a loved one's addiction consumes their life. Their pain is so familiar to me—desperate and unbearable. Many people confide that the addiction in their family is a deep, dark secret.
Addiction is America's deep, dark secret too. Every story in those letters reflects millions more, from every corner of the country. A report by the National Institute on Drug Abuse concludes that, “every community is affected by drug abuse and addiction, as is every family.” Yet when they strike, most people are caught off guard. Given the enormity of the suffering, its astounding that we—the collective we—are doing almost everything wrong in our fight against addiction.
Most people know that President Nixon inherited the war in Vietnam, but few remember than in 1971 he initiated the war on drugs. Without question, it has been a failure, costing hundreds of billions of dollars, while the use of drugs, plus the resulting morbidity and death, has risen steadily. Testifying before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs in 2008, Leonard J. Paulozzi, M.D., MPH, an epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, summed: “The mortality rates from unintentional drug overdose have risen steadily since the early 1970s, and over the past ten years they have reached historic highs.” First-time users are younger, the drugs themselves are stronger, and there are many more types of drugs to abuse. Users can get their drug of choice whenever and wherever they want. Yet in spite of these facts, the federal government boasts that we're making progress. Statistics are manipulated, misused, and ignored to mask the fact that we're playing a zero-sum game, because addicts, unless treated, will find drugs.