“The drug war, from its very inception, has never actually been about drugs. I often jokingly refer to it as ‘The war on (some people who use some) Drugs,’ but that isn’t really a joke. It’s just a clear statement about the situation. As shown definitively by Johann Hari in ‘Chasing the Scream’ and Michelle Alexander in ‘The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness’, the drug war has always been about controlling certain populations by criminalizing the drugs used by those populations and through unequal enforcement of the law. Although I firmly believe that no drugs should be illegal to possess, for psychedelics, in particular, treating possession alone as a serious felony is prima facie absurd considering their low abuse potential and incredible healing abilities. In a world where opiates are killing hundreds of thousands of people, to criminalize a promising treatment simply because it’s a psychedelic is a crime against humanity and one we should all be fighting back against every day. It is far past time to take control of the government’s response to the so-called ‘drug problem’ out of the hands of law enforcement, and give it over to public health professionals, who should have been the ones in charge all along.” – Mitchell Gomez, Executive Director – DanceSafe
We stand at the foot of a towering behemoth. This intangible titan does not discriminate, it does not rest, and it certainly does not negotiate. It shows no remorse. Those of you who are familiar with Live4Lali know exactly what I am alluding to. In 2018 addiction claimed 68,500 lives in the US – this was met with solemn celebration because we finally saw a small reduction in overdose deaths (72,000 in 2017).
For reasons I am unwilling to speculate on here, treatment of substance use disorder has been chronically under-funded and as such ill-equipped to treat the millions of Americans with this diagnosis. The impact of this injustice is evidenced by the longer someone is in recovery, and after the insurance-approved 28-day stay in an inpatient facility (which is an absolute travesty in itself, if you are lucky enough to have private insurance). The brunt of long-term recovery is attributed to personal discipline and, arguably, most importantly, a robust peer support structure. In our post Coronavirus world, all these systems are drastically affected, especially the peer support systems. Virtual meetings work in a pinch, but I believe they pale in comparison to the senses of togetherness and community that in-person meetings achieve. I think the cessation of classic recovery meetings to be extremely detrimental to long-term recovery – even if only for a few months – and we will see the repercussions of this for a long time to come.
I think it would be wise of us, those that work in the world of recovery, to anticipate an influx of individuals seeking help once our country is officially open for business again. It is in moments like these that I ask, “are we as a people, a country, using all the tools in our tool chest?” and my internal answer to that question is disheartening.
In September of 1966, Harvard psychologist Timothy Leary coined the term “Turn on, tune in, drop out” during a press conference in New York City, urging young folk of the time to embrace cultural change through the use of powerful entheogens (primarily LSD) to evaluate and detach from conventional societal constructs. This concept was opposed to the desires of the powers that be – the war was raging in Vietnam – and our leaders wanted clear-headed and impressionable youths to run into the meat grinder willingly. Enter Richard Nixon and the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970, which categorized all psychedelic drugs as Schedule I substances indicating that abuse potential is high, and there are zero medicinal uses. Psychedelic substances remain Schedule 1 drugs today.
Ibogaine, a naturally occurring psychoactive substance with psychedelic and dissociative properties, is listed in Schedule I substances along with drugs like heroin, cannabis, and MDMA. It is also touted as an early alternative treatment for addiction, but there is one small caveat: you cannot get this treatment in the US. Our neighbors to the north and south offer Ibogaine treatment, as do the Netherlands, South Africa, and New Zealand. Studies in Canada and New Zealand show that treating an individual with an opioid use disorder using ibogaine 12 to 24 hours after the individual’s last use has produced profound across-the-board effects on Addiction Severity Index-Lite scores, Subjective Opioid Withdrawal Scale scores, and Beck Depression Inventory-II.
Alright, hold your horses. I am not suggesting that ibogaine is the pinnacle addiction treatment. What I am suggesting (and a recurring theme for those who know me) is that we challenge our PERSPECTIVE. MDMA is listed as a Schedule I substance, and we have just begun to see the positive effect it can have in a therapeutic setting. Psilocybin mushrooms are a Schedule I substance, yet their positive impact on terminal patients is profound. Ketamine, a Schedule III substance, has brought relief to patients unable to find solace in the traditional treatment of depression and pain. Bill Wilson, the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, said that LSD helped him overcome his alcohol use disorder.
Refusing to acknowledge that the potential benefit of psychedelic therapies deserves re-consideration. Unfortunately, Schedule I substances are near impossible to study because we live in a culture heavily influenced by our Puritan foundation (as evidenced by America’s sexual and psychological taboos) is utterly dumbfounding to me. Barring research into potential treatment avenues because “it’s been that way for 50 years” is negligent. WE OWE OUR SICK PEOPLE MORE THAN THAT.
I do not believe in antiquated imperialist dogma. I believe in positive change. I believe every tool has an application.
Alexander Mathiesen is Live4Lali’s McHenry County Program Manager and oversees programming funded by the McHenry County Mental Health Board. He was a volunteer at Live4Lali before being appointed to serve the county of McHenry. Alex has been in recovery from an opioid use disorder for the past several years. His experience helps give personal insight on tangible ways to assist those with a substance use disorder or experiencing active use, their loved ones, and the community at large.
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