Sometimes, a wise thought can come from the most unlikely of sources. In an HBO special in 2006, Roseanne Barr said, “The war on drugs is a war on poor people using street drugs waged by rich people on prescription drugs.”

Methamphetamine. Cocaine. Ecstasy. Crack. Heroin. Alcohol. Nicotine. Marijuana. These are all words we have come to associate with addiction (and, yes, people get addicted to pot, despite the “it’s just a natural herb” argument thrown out by many). 


These are not the only addictions, though, that plague our society. While we have many other addictions that are worthy of note, including sports, sex, violence, shopping, money, etc., it is the chemical addiction that I would like to bring to the spotlight. 


The above substances, with the exception of alcohol and nicotine, are illegal. Much attention is paid to these by the media for their sensational headlines and law enforcement for their various safety and revenue reasons. What is not really addressed is the addiction to legal chemicals that we as a society not only consume in massive quantities, but also promote with flashy commercials and praise as the miracle that gives us better life. 


I’m not writing to address the moral issue of drugs, whether legal or illegal.  Personally, I believe a person’s body belongs to that person, and what they choose to do with their own body is their choice alone, whether healthy or unhealthy. Stigmatizing and criminalizing a person’s behavior to themselves is a society’s way of saying “I don’t like it, so you can’t do it.” But that is a subject for another column.


What I am going to address, however, is the hypocrisy of criminalizing and active repression of one form of chemical abuse while accepting, and often praising, the other forms of chemical abuse. To avoid any possibility of someone coming after me for using a copyrighted name, I will just refer to the legal ones as pain medicines, anti-depressants, sleep aids, stimulants, dietary aids, caffeine, laxatives, antacids, behavior modifiers, cough syrups, etc. The list of legal chemicals goes on and on and on. 


Somehow, we’ve decided that these are OK because a group of people in a government agency has given their stamp of approval. The makers of these chemicals have expensive television ads with bright colors and attractive people telling you how this product has improved their lives tremendously.  Many say these drugs are good because their doctor said so, not even bothering to ask how much money their doctor may possibly receive as a bonus from the particular drug company that manufactured their new life-saving pill.


I’m not a doctor. I’m not a scientist. I do not deny that drugs can greatly improve the quality of life for many people and do, in fact, save many lives.  They also destroy many lives. And in that, I see no difference between a “bad” drug and a “good” drug. A drug is a drug is a drug, period. 


I’m not advocating the legalization of currently illegal drugs, nor do I support the criminalization of currently legal drugs. What I am saying is that addiction and abuse is not the sole domain of what many brand as the “lesser” members of our society. I have seen many people take legal drugs and function perfectly as a contributing member of society. I have also seen many people who take illegal drugs function just as normally. On the flip side, I have seen lost addicts from both sides whose constant thought is on their next bump or their next pill.


Sometimes, a wise thought can come from the most unlikely of sources. In an HBO special in 2006, Roseanne Barr said, “The war on drugs is a war on poor people using street drugs waged by rich people on prescription drugs.” 


According to Prescription Drug Abuse.org, “prescription drugs are the second most commonly abused category of drugs, behind marijuana and ahead of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, and other drugs.” Nearly 20 percent of Americans have used prescription drugs for non-medicinal purposes, as estimated by the National Institutes of Health.  


The idea that that this group of abusers is comprised of young people snatching medication from their parents is false and misleading. Johns Hopkins University issued a health alert in 2010, which stated, “Americans age 65 and older make up 13 percent of the population but consume about one-third of all prescription drugs.” They go on to say that prescription drug abuse by the elderly is substantial and growing and, at its present rate, could increase by 190 percent by 2020. 


To accept –– or at worst, overlook –– this form of addiction and focus entirely on the “street” drugs is hypocritical and ultimately destabilizing to us as a society, as it creates an underclass of criminal addicts while providing a pillar of legitimacy for other addicts, based solely on the fact that some companies have the money to ensure their drug is branded as good by the government. 


It is time for us to take another look at what constitutes a drug addict and redefine our perception of what drug abuse is, or we will continue to be a nation of hypocrite addicts.


James Jackson can be reached at schoolnews@thesuntimes.com.