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This is Your Brain On Drugs – 20 Years Later

This is Your Brain On Drugs

Some of you are likely to remember a series of public service announcements (PSA) made by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America ® for a nationwide anti-drug campaign called This is Your Brain On Drugs. The large-scale campaign was launched in 1987, in a different era, at least with respect to how the nation viewed drug addiction and what to do about what we now know to be a form of mental health disorder. The first PSA titled “Frying Pan,” has actor John Roselius frying ups some eggs in order to show viewers what drugs do to your brain.

The second iteration of the campaign was released in 1997 and was titled again, "Frying Pan." The PSA starred actress Rachael Leigh Cook essentially using a frying pan and an egg to demonstrate to viewers the inherent dangers that accompany using heroin, and presumably other drugs as well, but heroin was singled out. The 30 second clip highlighted the fact that one’s drug use didn’t only affect the individual, but rather one’s family and one could even argue society.

If you were not born yet, too young to remember or would like to refresh your memory, please take a moment to watch the short PSA:

If you are having trouble viewing the clip, please click here.

You can probably gather that the PSA’s toed the line of the American “war on drugs.” While the PSA’s attempted to scare people away from drugs, pointing out that they would take everything from you, even your life; the makers of the ads seemed to forget to mention that before drugs took your life, they could be a cause for losing your freedom. Both the aforementioned PSAs ending with the rhetorical statement, “Any Questions?” As if frying an egg or smashing up an apartment would say everything that needed to be said about the reasons for abstaining from drugs.

Any Questions About Addiction

While Entertainment Weekly named “Frying Pan” 8th best commercial of all time, the American Egg Board, naturally, had some concerns about eggs getting an unfair reputation. At the end of the day; however, This is Your Brain On Drugs was a scare tactic, as were all public service announcements about drug use going back to Reefer Madness. They were all created under the premise that drug use was a choice; you could choose to, or not, but the power was in your hands. If you chose wrongly, you risked everything.

Even though addiction is a disease, a symptom of which include the use of drugs, drugs are still for the most part illegal under both state and Federal law. For decades, as we have written about in the past, the 40+ year war on drugs has done little to prevent and treat substance abuse. What it has done is disenfranchise millions of Americans, mostly people who were low on the socio-economic spectrum and minorities. Getting caught up in the legal system for the crime of addiction has proven to be relatively easy, getting out of it has proven to be much more difficult.

Today, in the 21st Century and still in the grips of an opioid addiction epidemic, many people's views about the war on drugs have changed. Thanks both to science and the fact that the epidemic has predominantly affected white America (both rich and poor), our society has been rethinking the true cost of the war on drugs. And, as a result, more Americans than ever are advocating for addiction treatment over prison for those caught possessing illegal drugs.

We are not out of the woods yet. There are still swaths of lawmakers who cling to draconian drug policies as the solution to addiction. Which is why the fight to end the stigma of this most serious mental illness must continue. Which has not been lost on the Drug Policy Alliance, the nation's leading organization promoting drug policies that are grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights. The organization, with the help of a 20-years older Rachael Leigh Cook, decided to make a postscript to the 1997 PSA. In the new version of the “Frying Pan,” Cook says:

The war on drugs is ruining peoples' lives. It fuels mass incarceration, it targets people of color in greater numbers than their white counter parts. It cripples communities, it costs billions, and it doesn't work. Any questions?

Please take a moment to watch:

If you are having trouble watching, please click here.

Addiction Treatment Is The Answer

Effective measures of treating addiction were helping a significant number of Americans in 1987 at the start of This is Your Brain On Drugs. It wasn’t talked about, because it did not line up with the stigma-driven narrative of addiction employed at the time. It was being treated and people were living lives in recovery, just as they are today. Fortunately, people touched by the disease today have more of an ability to seek help, without fear of prosecution.

Now the science behind addiction, and other forms of mental illness is far better understood. With each year that passes, the stigma of addiction seems to soften. Slowly, but surely, more Americans see the value of ending the war on drugs and advocating for treatment. If you or a loved one has been touched by the deadly disease of addiction, please contact PACE Recovery Center.

The War On Drugs: A Closer Look

Some of our older readers can probably remember when President Richard Nixon called drug abuse America’s public enemy number one. You can likely remember when the 37th President of the United States declared a “war on drugs.” Setting aside any ulterior motives or hidden agendas, Nixon’s declaration of war seemed to make sense. Drugs are both dangerous and deadly. They have the power to ruin the lives of individuals and their families. Illegal drug manufacturing, distribution and use place a heavy economic toll on society.

The war on drugs was basically a three-pronged effort to target illegal drug sales, help addicts recover from what we know now to be a mental health disorder and educate young people about the dangers of substance use and abuse. Unfortunately, now forty years later, we know that most of the Federal government’s energy was directed towards incarcerating drug offenders. Whether they be dealers or addicts. The idea, presumably, arrest those who supply drugs and those who demand them. And voilà! The problem goes away. Right?

President Nixon may have started the war, but the battle to rid the country of both drugs and addiction would continue under every Commander-in-Chief to follow. Aggressively under both Presidents Reagan and Clinton. It is important for all of us to remember that the ill-fated war on drugs in America was believed in by lawmakers on both sides of the Congressional and Presidential aisle. It was about party affiliation. Going after drug traffickers in this country and abroad, and arresting individuals for breaking laws prohibiting the use of certain narcotics, seemed like good policy. Not just in America.

Decades later, and a closer look at such a policy and the results that it achieved versus the costs (not just monetarily), one will see that what can only be described as a dismal failure presents itself. As is evident by the fact that we host the largest prison population and have the biggest drug problem on the planet—despite everyone’s best intentions. Over half of inmates in the U.S. are in jail or prison for nonviolent drug offenses.

While the last decade could be called a quasi-cease fire in the war in drugs (i.e. changes in mandatory minimum sentencing, drug courts, state-level marijuana legalization and presidential pardons for nonviolent offenders), there is still a lot more to be done with regard to putting an end to draconian drug sentencing laws. Also, with breaking the stigma of addiction, so that people who need help can get it.

A War on Drugs, Abroad…

You may have seen news reports over the last year, covering President Duterte of the Philippines. A leader who essentially declared that the punishment for both drug dealers and addicts is death. One not even be given the luxury of a trial, evidenced by suspects being gunned down on the streets. It is fair to say that the approach in the Philippines is far more severe than any war on drugs to come before. Even compared to a country with a history of being the frontline of the global war on drugs, Colombia.

In the 1980’s and early-90’s, with the help of billions of American dollars and the CIA, the Colombian government fought tooth and nail to bring down narcotraficantes (drug traffickers). With the most notable target being Pablo Escobar, who was finally brought down under Colombian President Cesar Gaviria in 1993. While that nation won a few battles, Gaviria points out that it came at great costs in New York Times op-ed published last week. With first-hand experience in such matters and a founding member of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, the former Colombian leader used the op-ed as a forum to reach out to President Duterte. Warning him about what is at stake, if his hardline approach continues.

Winning the fight against drugs requires addressing not just crime, but also public health, human rights and economic development. No matter what Mr. Duterte believes, there will always be drugs and drug users in the Philippines. But it is important to put the problem in perspective: The Philippines already has a low number of regular drug users. The application of severe penalties and extrajudicial violence against drug consumers makes it almost impossible for people with drug addiction problems to find treatment. Instead, they resort to dangerous habits and the criminal economy. Indeed, the criminalization of drug users runs counter to all available scientific evidence of what works.” Gaviria adds, “Taking a hard line against criminals is always popular for politicians. I was also seduced into taking a tough stance on drugs during my time as president. The polls suggest that Mr. Duterte’s war on drugs is equally popular. But he will find that it is unwinnable. I also discovered that the human costs were enormous. We could not win the war on drugs through killing petty criminals and addicts. We started making positive impacts only when we changed tack, designating drugs as a social problem and not a military one.”

Not Just A History Lesson

Hopefully, Gaviria sage wisdom will not fall on deaf ears, and the lives of addicts overseas may be spared. Here at home, where we do not see addicts being meted out extrajudicial punishments, we have a seen a lot of progress in recent years with regard to drugs and how those who use them are treated. In a number of cities across the country, addicts can surrender their drugs to police. Instead of being given handcuffs in return, those living in addiction are shown compassion and referred to treatment centers. A trend that we all hope will continue.

While President Gaviria’s message was meant for the President of the Philippines, hopefully it will be heeded in some degree here in America. As was emphasized earlier, there is still a lot more that can be done, that can make a real impact for the better. Last week, a Presidential Executive Order on Enforcing Federal Law with Respect to Transnational Criminal Organizations and Preventing International Trafficking was signed. Some working in the field of addiction fear that the language in the new EO might echo the draconian approaches of the past in the American war on addiction. In the NYT op-ed (unrelated to the new EO) mentioned earlier, Gaviria closed with:

A successful president makes decisions that strengthen the public good. This means investing in solutions that meet the basic standards of basic rights and minimize unnecessary pain and suffering. The fight against drugs is no exception. Strategies that target violent criminals and undermine money laundering are critical. So, too, are measures that decriminalize drug users, support alternative sentencing for low-level nonviolent offenders and provide a range of treatment options for drug abusers. This is a test that many of my Colombian compatriots have failed...”

PACE Recovery Mission

At PACE Recovery Center, our mission is to provide our clients with a safe and supportive environment to help them overcome the challenges they have experienced due to alcohol and drug abuse. We believe that incorporating sound clinical interventions and a lifestyle that encourages health and wellness, in a shame free setting that encourages accountability and responsibility, will help foster long term recovery.

We will continue our efforts to break the stigma of addiction.

Nonviolent Drug Offenders Get Pardoned

nonviolent drug offendersMass incarceration has been just one of the results of the “war on drugs” in the United States. It is probably fair to say that in 1971, when President Richard Nixon declared drug abuse "public enemy number one," that he had no idea of the long term implications that declaration would have on the country. First, let’s take a look at some numbers so you can get an idea of the cost of making addiction a crime. The International Centre for Prison Studies reports that half of the world's prison population of about nine million, reside in penal institutions in the US, China or Russia. However, while the overall general population in America is but a fraction of China, we have the highest number of prisoners by almost a million people. The US Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) reported that there were 2,220,300 adults behind bars in 2013, and according to the Bureau of Prisons, close to half (48.6 percent) are incarcerated for drug crimes—some of whom are serving life sentences for nonviolent drug offenses. It is almost impossible, and for good reason, to wrap your head around those statistics, yet they are a reality. Fortunately, the view of addiction and how it should be handled has gradually been changing in America, in part due to the opioid epidemic. Lawmakers have taken a look around and can see that addiction can affect anyone, as is evident by the over 2.5 million Americans living with an opioid use disorder. There are more opioid addicts than there are prisoners in the United States. There has been a big push to do away with mandatory minimum sentencing laws which affect minorities the most. What’s more, lawmakers having been calling for more addiction treatment, and less imprisonment for nonviolent drug offenders. Unfortunately, repealing and altering the draconian drug sentencing laws in America is no easy task. And even if public sentiment and sentencing laws change, there are still thousands of people serving unjust time for the crime of addiction. Because of those circumstances, the current White House administration has been working tirelessly to give people a second opportunity.

Pardon for Drug Addiction

There is a good chance that you have heard the reports in recent years regarding Presidential commutations, specifically for those who are serving lengthy sentences for nonviolent offenses. In fact, the President has commuted the sentences of nearly 800 prisoners during the course of his tenure, most of them drug offenders. The president has commuted more prison sentences than his 11 predecessors combined. The president has commuted or reduced the sentences of a number of people who were serving life sentences. The effort to commute the sentences of drug offenders has widely been applauded. No one should have to rot away in jail because they became hooked on drugs. It is likely that more sentences will be considered and commuted between now and January 20th when the next president is sworn in. However, there are still some 13,275 petitions for clemency still pending, as of October, Business Insider reports. With little time left, many inmates fear that their window of opportunity is closing fast. There is no way of knowing the stance that the next President will take, so organizations like the Clemency Project 2014, are working hard to forward inmates' petitions to the Pardon Attorney, according to the article. The project has sworn that they will continue filing inmates' petitions until time runs out. The Clemency Project consists of a team of lawyers who vet petitions in order to deem which ones stand a chance, before sending them off to the Pardon Attorney.
We certainly have expressed to [the lawyers] that time is of the essence and we want to work quickly and efficiently,” project manager Cynthia Roseberry told Business Insider.

The Future is Uncertain

One can only hope that those who deserve a second chance, will be granted such a gift - the gift of recovery. As the next few months play out, hopefully the push for treatment over jail will continue. It is the only way to reduce the prison population and prevent staggering mass incarceration rates. As featured and promoted in the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) treatment is the answer, and should be the weapon of choice in the war on drugs moving forward.

Generation Found: ‘Just Say No’ Was a Slogan

generation foundIf you were an adult or a child in elementary school in the 1980’s, it is likely that you remember the saying: “Just Say No to Drugs.” It was an advertising campaign, part of the “War on Drugs” in America, designed to teach kids a way they could turn down offers from their peers to try illegal drugs. It is likely that you also remember Drug Abuse Resistance Education, or D.A.R.E., a program that was offered to students of various ages in the United States beginning in 1983. The organization, yet another tool used in this country's War On Drugs, educated adolescents on the dangers of illegal drug use and asked the students to sign a pledge that they would abstain from drugs or gangs. Both of the aforementioned efforts to prevent adolescent drug use were met with serious criticism, and were considered to be widely ineffective. While efforts to curb the use of addictive drugs by teens and young adults is crucial, the picture that has long been painted about drug use and addiction has been wholly inaccurate. In a number of ways, “Just Say No”…, D.A.R.E. and even This Is Your Brain on Drugs only served to further stigmatize addiction as being a moral failing. Today, while programs like D.A.R.E. still exist, the picture we have of addiction is quite different. As is evident by the American opioid epidemic, no matter who you are or where you came from—the risk of addiction is real. Everyone carries some level of eligibility.

Bringing Addiction Into The Light

The opioid epidemic in the United States has forced lawmakers, health professionals and the common citizen to reevaluate addiction. With thousands of people dying every year from opioid overdoses, it is clear that the nation can no longer hold onto War On Drugs rhetoric. Effective science-based, compassionate efforts are vital if we are ever going to stem the tide of addiction. The War On Drugs cannot be won, and addiction is not going anywhere. It is paramount that every tool of addiction recovery be made available to all who require them, only by helping people recover from substance use disorder will the demand for such drugs decrease. Despite all the options available for people suffering from addiction, many Americans hesitate to seek help—especially teenagers and young adults. Asking for assistance is at times viewed as accepting that you have a weakness that cannot be controlled. Those who do manage to surrender and seek treatment, often find that staying sober when they are back in the real world is an insurmountable task. They often feel that they are find their way out of the frying pan, only to land in the fire. One American community has taken a novel approach to ensuring that young people with addiction disorders, have a shot at sustained recovery.

Generation Found

‘Just say no’ was a slogan. This is a revolution. A sentiment shared by the creators of a new documentary called Generation Found. The film tells the story of a community in Houston, Texas, that developed the world’s largest peer-driven youth and family recovery community. Generation Found is the story of how a “system of treatment centers, sober high schools, alternative peer groups, and collegiate recovery programs can exist in concert to intervene early and provide a real and tested long-term alternative to the War On Drugs.” Please take a moment to watch the trailer: If you are having trouble watching, please click here. If you are in the Orange County, CA, area on August 30, 2016, there will be a showing of Generation Found at Island Cinema, at 7:30PM. You can learn more about the film here, reserve tickets, find a showing in your area or plan a showing in your area.

Ending The War On Drugs

war on drugsIn 1971, President Richard Nixon declared drug abuse "public enemy number one," and thus began the United States’ “war on drugs.” While there is little doubt about the insidious nature of both drug abuse and the drug trade, it has become clear that not only was the war on drugs an unwinnable campaign - it has resulted in the jailing and imprisonment of millions of Americans whose only crime was to suffer from the disease of addiction. We know that incarceration has little effect on addiction rates, mental illness requires treatment not handcuffs. The United States has been faced with an opioid epidemic for well over a decade, a public health crisis that has affected people and families from every demographic. As the nation’s lawmakers address the issue, politicians from both sides of the aisle agree that addiction treatment and education is the most effective weapon. Unfortunately, we cannot reverse the damage that the war on drugs has inflicted on countless Americans, but we can take more humanitarian approach for the future - doing away with many of the nation’s draconian drug laws. This week, Der Spiegel published an essay written by Nobel Peace Prize winner and former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan. With the use of powerful words, Annan declared that the global war on drugs has done more harm than good, and has given more weight to punishment than health and human rights. It has created the perfect environment for illegal drug manufacturers and distributors to foster. He writes:
“In my experience, good public policy is best shaped by the dispassionate analysis of what in practice has worked, or not. Policy based on common assumptions and popular sentiments can become a recipe for mistaken prescriptions and misguided interventions. Nowhere is this divorce between rhetoric and reality more evident than in the formulation of global drug policies, where too often emotions and ideology rather than evidence have prevailed.”
In April the United Nations General Assembly will hold a special session on drugs, a chance Annan believes for changes to be made regarding global drug policies. He wrote four critical steps that he believes should be accepted and implemented. 1) Decriminalize personal drug use. 2)Accept that a drug-free world is an illusion. 3)Look at regulation and public education rather than the total suppression of drugs. 4)Recognize that drugs must be regulated precisely because they are risky.

Some final thoughts…

At PACE Recovery Center our men's only extended care drug and alcohol treatment program is built on the idea that by helping the client work on their underlying issues, they will be able to achieve long-term sobriety. PACE's addiction treatment team incorporates the most effective treatment modalities, which have been proven through empirical research. We will follow with interest the special session on drugs that will be conducted at the United Nations General Assembly.