Recently it was said by a Senator in the US that “good people don’t use cannabis”. This was in discussion about drug laws, decriminalization, and the entire War on Drugs issue that has so many tongues wagging recently, particularly with cannabis legalization efforts in many jurisdictions and a new “opioid overdose crisis” which has always existed but is finally killing people outside the lower income brackets. It reflects an attitude of much of his constituency, and indeed which prevails even with well-meaning advocates of decriminalization and harm reduction measures. The common viewpoint has absolutely no insight into the way people use drugs, and who uses them in the first place.
We all have a picture in our head that is summoned up by the word “junkie”. You picture a person in ragged clothes, thin and gaunt from malnutrition, likely with dirty hair set in some squalid environment such as an abandoned house collapsing under years of neglect and decay. Similarly if you say “alcoholic” or “pothead” caricatures of drug users pop into your mind, reinforced by years of exposure to the media and their hypocritically gross oversimplifications of this issue. Why do I say it is hypocritical? Half the media is high all the damn time, with the rest of the population, and just won’t admit to it, because they’re “different”.
As a drug user I have encountered many other drug users, and sellers, and most sellers are also users, and so I have noticed a pattern; the pattern being that there is no pattern. Drug users come from literally every walk of life, every culture, every socioeconomic background and every corner of the globe. They might use different drugs in slightly different ways as a result of their environmental circumstance; you’ll find more of certain drugs in certain societies, but a good portion of the human race qualify as “addicts” if you pulled all the skeletons out of their closets.
I’m not even going to bother to examine in-depth the fact there is a lineup of people physically and psychologically dependent on caffeine at every Starbucks and Tim Horton’s each morning. Nor will we get into the fact that bars around the west are packed with casual binge drinkers and daily glass-tippers on a regular basis. I won’t bring up the gajillion or so people who are now taking addictive anti-anxiety or anti-depressant drugs, because that is legally sanctioned drug addiction and thus holds a different tier in our society than that drug use which falls outside the bounds of the law. I’m going to stick to people using drugs which are currently illegal to possess, sell and consume, drugs like cocaine, cannabis, heroin and so on.
Have you ever worked in manufacturing? Doing assembly line work, machine operating, or some kind of warehouse work like packing? It’s terribly boring, and the repetitive nature of it usually ends up causing some kind of chronic pain. If you haven’t had the experience, I have a small experiment that will give you a taste of working as a human cog in the great machine of industry.
Get yourself a stack of paper. It could be scrap paper sitting on top of your printer, old letters that came in the mail, something you don’t need. Now sit down at a table, stack that paper up on your right hand side, and start folding it in half. Fold each sheet five times; enough so the last fold is a little bit stiff and you have to exert strength to get it to stay. Now when you fold the sheets stack them neatly to your left, like somebody was going to come along and count them. Do this as quickly as you can manage without getting sloppy, remember that neatness counts, but so does pacing. Whatever number you do in the first 15 minutes is probably about half of the quota you would be expected to make were somebody paying you a menial wage to do this. Try to keep up this process for 30min at least.
If you’ve actually done this I can predict you are experiencing a number of things. First of all that 30 minutes felt like an hour or more, and your mind was starting to have trouble focusing on the task before you. Secondly I would speculate your fingers were starting to get a bit sore, especially from that last stiff fold where you had to push it down hard to crease it. Thirdly, you’re damn glad you stopped doing it when you did, rather than having to do that for the next eight to ten hours.
That is life in manufacturing. Every day you get up and do some repetitive, slightly physically demanding task, all day long. You repeat this several times a week, possibly on swing shifts or continental shifts where days are long, and you go from day to night over and over until you don’t know when to be awake. You develop chronic aches and pains from engaging in the same motions all day every day. The boredom is a cruelty all its own, because once you’ve mastered the simple task before you it happens from muscle memory and your mind is free to wander in the void.
Many people working in manufacturing use drugs, lots of drugs, to deal with these persistent discomforts. The word discomfort isn’t even really doing it credit, life as a factory worker is a form of slow, endless torture both mentally and physically for which you aren’t even well compensated in our age. I have done this kind of work, spent almost a year on the same assembly line doing the same stupid thing again and again. I don’t know how some people manage to do the same job for decades; I would personally go mad in that situation. They do it though, and more often than you think they cope with drugs.
If you’re high on certain drugs, amphetamines for example, you can maintain a high level of physical energy and strict concentration on a task that is otherwise painfully dull to repeat all day long. The hours slip by without the same sense of timeless misery they do when you’re sober and facing such a challenge. It can really be a useful tool; the trouble is stopping when you no longer need it to function in that role. Cocaine is used by many well-paid factory workers, like in auto manufacturing, for the same reason. Drugs can have great utility in that when used carefully they can put you into a state of mind which is useful for certain conditions.
Opioid use is also common, because of the physical pain many factory workers deal with as a result of repetitive stress. You can’t do the same thing 10,000 times a week without getting sore. Pile the weeks and the years on and your body starts wearing out in the places you’re using it, causing chronic and sometimes debilitating pain. Opioids can make you numb, or at least indifferent, to this kind of pain. I myself have used opioids for this reason, doing a job that made my back hurt constantly. It got me through the days, and helped me keep my mind on something that was ridiculously simple but also incredibly dangerous. Heavy machines can crush, cut, and tear a human being to shreds when they’ve been designed to cut and shape hard materials like steel; lose your focus and you lose a limb, or even your life.
Every industrial facility I have ever worked in, or done work in as a subcontractor, has been filled with drug use. Being a user myself I know how to spot certain patterns, responses, pupil dilation, and various other signs that drug use is present. Beyond that I have bought, sold and used drugs with coworkers in these environments who use for the reasons I have detailed above; their jobs are incredibly demanding in ways that some drugs make easier to cope with.
It isn’t restricted to manufacturing, either. Many pharmacists have substance use issues. A combination of access, and a job which is far less exciting than the level of training and education required would seem to provide, makes it easy for people in this field to fall into habitual drug use. Ever notice how eager your pharmacist is to talk to you about your prescription and actually make use of that degree? Studies vary when it comes to determining the drug use and addiction rates amongst pharmacists, but some estimate it to be around 20% - and that's only the ones we know of. Realistically, the rate is probably far higher. We're talking about people who use but are not detected, and given it is in their best interest to not report, how can we collect useful data? The reason it goes unnoticed is because people well trained to deal with drugs are also great at hiding the fact they’re using.
Drug use in the medical profession in general is much higher than the public would like to believe, again because of access and job stresses. Interns working in an emergency ward sometimes work on call for days on end. Hospital staff are stressed and worked to haggard shadows of humanity in austerity culture, again creating circumstances ripe for heavy drug use. Dr. John Hopkins shot morphine several times a day, and his name is still plastered on a medical school and spoken in reverent tones.
The only way we can deal with drugs, and get past the ideologically bankrupt War on Drugs, is to be honest with ourselves about drug use in modern society. “Drug users” are not people in ragged clothes using dirty needles under a train bridge somewhere, lit by a trashcan fire. People who are doing that are products of a whole intersection of social ails, and present the most extreme example of why people use drugs. Drug users make up, I would speculate, over half the population, and much higher if you want to include every substance we ingest to cause a change of state in our own bodies. If we extend it that far we’re talking about almost everyone.
Punishing a handful of people who use certain drugs in certain ways is beyond hypocritical. It’s destructive, costly, and so far all of our enforcement measures have done nothing but escalate the violent crime associated with unregulated markets of any kind. People Who Use Drugs would be better revised to just be People, because save a handful of Mormons and other assorted firm believers of given faiths, everyone is using drugs of some kind, and not because they’re washed up losers with no ambition, but because drugs are really damn useful.
Western civilization is more afraid of “drugs” than it is of guns, which is pretty absurd, because people use drugs every day without making headlines; fire a gun in a public place and it will be on the evening news. The narrative that “good people” don’t use drugs is ignorant and ridiculous.
Guest Post by James Collins – Writer, drug user and social misfit. Check out more from James on his blog crazyshitithinkabout, and on Twitter.
By K. Lanktree
- Freelance Writer -
- Blog Mistress -
- Former IV Drug User -
- Methadone Patient -
- Lover of all things Harm Reduction -
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