By ROBERT JUMPER
ONE FEATHER EDITOR
Each year, all tribal employees are required to sit through one hour of drug awareness training (supervisors and managers get to endure a second hour of “how to catch a drug user and what to do if you catch one” training). The presenter does her best to make the material interesting and informative, but when you have seen the presentations for the second, or in my case, fifteenth time, it is difficult to concentrate on the material, especially when you know that bottom line: the tribal government is a “no tolerance” employer and if you test positive for drug use, gather your personal effects and leave your workstation immediately. Testing positive for drugs while employed by the Tribe is an automatic termination. Ask if there is any chance for leniency and the answer is “Just say no”.
There has been an ongoing debate about drug use on the Boundary. Numbers of drug arrests are on the rise, particularly for heroin abuse. Heroin seems to be the new drug of choice. But, many still use a litany of drugs, as my drug awareness trainer explained. Even in the opium-based drugs, there are many offshoots, including heroin.
Marijuana was also on the training list of very bad, very illegal drugs, along with the quite legal alcohol. I mention this because we, as a Tribe, have been having such a debate over the status of drug abusers and drug merchants. In trying to tackle the real question of how do we reduce the use of legal and illegal drugs in our community, we tend to get into weeds (pardon the pun) by moving the discussion to the debate over criminal actions and disease affliction. When you are talking about beloved sons and daughters, valued members of Cherokee society, assigning accountability and liability can be a very emotional thing. No parent or community wants to hear that their loved one is a criminal. No one raises their children to grow up and abuse drugs.
In a section of the training titled “The Truth about Marijuana”, I lapsed into memories of childhood. Back in my day, videos like this were produced to frighten teens who were about to be issued state driver licenses. The film they showed us as prospective new vehicle drivers was titled “Death on the highways”. It provided some of the most frightening crash images a young man or woman probably had ever seen in their childhoods. Unfortunately, the state did not use the same rating scale as the motion picture industry. This one would have been given an “R” for violent and graphic content. While the intent of the driver education video was to showcase the potential horrible results of reckless driving and to encourage those about to take the roadways to drive responsibly, most teenagers nervously laughed off the video, saying that it could never happen to them. Most of them had big brothers, sisters, or other peers that would calm any fears that they might have about the video and tell them that it isn’t how driving really works.
Similarly, the drug debate continues on the Boundary. When trying to win the war on drugs, we paint the worst case scenario and toss about regulatory solutions to try to force behavior. So, we treat the user and dealer as criminals. And, then we realize that we are talking about sons and daughters of the Tribe and say, “Well it is not the user’s fault, it is the supplier that is the criminal.” Blame seems to be of paramount importance in the drug debate. It is an emotional battle that leads friends, families and communities to blame the suppliers, fellow abusers and even the drug itself.
One study that I read suggests that it is society itself that is the true cause of drug addiction. Personal relationship is not a priority in today’s society. With all of the gadgets that we have at our disposal, communication doesn’t have to be face-to face anymore. We Facebook, tweet and pin our lives away because it is convenient. Why go to a friend’s house or public gathering place when all that is required is an internet connection to communicate with anyone in the world? The study suggests that the lack of intimate relationship is the primary reason that people seek other forms of satisfaction. Drugs are used to fill the void created by lack of personal relationship. If this is true, than ostracizing and isolating abusers will only fuel their desire to find a numbing agent for their emotional pain.
I don’t know the answer to the debate over drug users and suppliers. As the old saying goes in business, “If there were no demand, there would be no call for supply”. Many of those who deal drugs are doing so to feed their own addiction. And, many of those drug abusers who don’t turn to selling drugs will lie, steal, and even kill to get the resources needed to get their fixes. So laying this at the drug dealer’s feet is not going to stop the flow or stop our kids from getting addicted.
Wouldn’t it be ironic if the real answer to the drug problem on the Boundary lies with the amount of time you are spending with your children and how engaged our society is in providing opportunity for personal interaction? What if true love and concern for people and keeping them focused on that would stem the tide of heroin, marijuana and a host of other pacifiers that are used to replace affection?
We each need to define for ourselves how we feel about drug abuse. Yes, society must be protected from the actions of those who are addicted, or anyone else who would do harm to others for their own gain. But, we need not think that punishment alone will solve the problem. Rehabilitation centers are fine, but those must be closely regulated and monitored to ensure that emotional concerns are being addressed as well as medical or chemical dependency. Cleaning a person up chemically and then sending them back into the social situation they came from that nurtured their dependency in the first place will only lead to recurrence.
Love and respect doesn’t always mean giving someone what they want. It is not excusing behavior or assessing blame elsewhere. And, we must realize that, in the war on drugs, community and societal change may be the only ways to truly impact the rising tide of drug abuse.