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The problem with waging war on social problems.


I was reading the newspaper when I ran across the article I posted above:  High Point’s war on Heroin.  I began thinking about why we wage war on social problems and potential problems with waging war on heroin.

Declaring war on heroin clearly defines heroin as an enemy that must be fought. The problem with making heroin or any other social problem for that matter an enemy that must be destroyed is that we not only make heroin our evil enemy we make everyone who uses heroin an evil enemy as well.  When a country goes to war it is normal for wartime propaganda to paint a picture of the enemy was “evil”.  We need people to believe that who or whatever we are going to war with must be destroyed at all costs.  People in a war are expected to kill people they have never met just because they are on the other side.  The enemy must be dehumanized for people to engage in this kind of hatred.

We are dehumanizing people with the social problems that we have waged war against, in this case heroin.  Heroin Users are stigmatized and dehumanized and this makes it easy to imprison these people and allow them to die of overdose and get sick with disease.  People that use heroins lives don’t matter because we are at war with heroin and it is evil.

War is never what happens first.  War is something that happens after you have tried every other option.  War should always be a last resort.  Is it really time for war….have we tried everything else to rid our world of the social problems we wage war against?

Social problems are not simple.  There are no clear cut answers to social problems and the  problems themselves are not that easily defined..  When we say drug problem we often think of problems that stem from drugs, right?  Wrong.  We cannot really define what are drug problems and distinguish them from drug policy problems. “The United States imprisons more people than any other nation in the world, largely due to misguided drug laws and mandatory sentencing requirements. Since the 1970s, drug war practices have led to the conviction and marginalization of millions of Americans – disproportionately poor people and people of color – while failing utterly to reduce problematic drug use, drug-related disease transmission or overdose deaths (Drug Policy Alliance 2015).”  Individuals with any type of drug offense are often showered with life long barriers which contribute to a number of other social problems. Health problems that people experience because of drugs are often exacerbated because of stigma and fear.  Until we untangle drugs from drug policy we cannot be sure which harms result from the drugs and which harms are a result of policy.

it is impossible for people to come up with unified answers for the complicated social problems that exist in society. The insistence that social problems and their causes can be understood as a straightforward struggle between good and evil, constrains discussion of alternative causes and solutions and oversimplifies intensely complex issues.

A war against a social problem can never be won.  The war will not result in a clear-cut victory. It will not be brief. Social problems cannot surrender.  I believe it is truly harmful to wage war on heroin or any other social problem for that matter.  You cannot successfully address any complex problem with brute military force.

I language we use when we talk about drugs and people who use drugs is not helpful for creating solutions:  addict, clean, dirty, junkie, ….the list goes on!  This is just another example of how we stigmatize and dehumanize people and make it easy to throw them away.  DRUG USERS LIVES MATTER!

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