A column in the May 4, 2016 edition of The Lebanon Daily Record bore the title "Drug Problems in Ozarks Start in Mexico". The article went on to claim that Mexico is the source of the drug problem in the Ozarks. I’ve been in the writing business long enough to know that sometimes the columnist writes the headline and sometimes it is actually the editor. Regardless, the FACT is that Ozarks drug problems originate in the Ozarks. Mexico, China, and even California, are three of the country’s largest drug providers, who simply supply the DEMAND.
For ten years I worked for the Laclede County Sheriff’s Department, including running the county jail from 2001 through much of 2004. Since then I’ve been working as a volunteer board member of the New Life House, a Christian transitional housing program for women coming out of jail or prison. In other words, for more than 20 years I’ve been in the business of fighting drugs, through law enforcement and rehabilitation, usually right on the front line, person by person. And the simple truth is our drug problems are based right here at home, in a single four letter word – PAIN.
A child, an adolescent, or an adult of any age, who believes in their value as a person, who has been raised and supported to believe that, by at least one person—their parent(s), a grandparent or other relative, even a teacher, family friend, or neighbor—is much less likely to get involved in drugs or other high risk behavior than one who has not. As we see more families abdicate their child-rearing responsibilities, abandoning their children or letting them raise themselves more than not, we have seen an increase in the number of people of all ages who turn to drugs and alcohol in an attempt to dull or wipe out the emotional pain they struggle with.
In 2006, Dick Dixon of Bolivar and I co-authored a book, Ozark Meth: A Journey of Destruction and Deliverance, in which we interviewed 30 methamphetamine addicts in sustained recovery, all residents of southwest Missouri. (We updated and re-released it again in 2013, including re-connecting with eight of the original interviewees.) They told us how they got on, how they got off and how they stay off meth. They also told us WHY and every one of them told us, one way or another, of the pain they were dealing with at the time. Whether it was the breakdown of a relationship with their significant other, the loss of their job, livelihood or place to live, each related a story that involved pain, fear and an overwhelming sense of loss and hopelessness. Ironically, almost every woman we spoke with, got involved with drugs because of the man or boy, she followed into the drug life. (Not incidentally, when we asked each how they managed to stay out of the drug life, once they broke free initially, 28 of the 30, told us the only way “to get out and stay out is called Jesus Christ”—their words, not ours.) These folks came from different communities and did not know one another. While 17 were arrested, 13 were not. Some went through Christian rehab and others did not; in other words, they were a diverse sample of folks in the Ozarks who get involved in drugs.
While there are those who will read this and say, well, this is all pie-in-the-sky because we can’t fix everybody’s problems BEFORE they get involved in drugs. That is true but we can realize that the source of the problem is not simple and while it is convenient to blame another country or culture, the basic problem is still ours.
Dick Dixon states that there are 4 steps to fighting drugs in America--education (pamphlets, classes), intervention, treatment, and interdiction (arrest). In America, we are really good at and have spent billions on Steps #1 and #4 but pennies on the two in between. And the reason? Because those two require getting involved. Intervention--stepping into someone else's life to say, 'hey, this isn't right. Something's got to change. I (we) know you are in trouble....' It goes against everything we believe as John Wayne-lovin' Americans. We don't need anyone to tell us how to run our lives and we don't like stepping into someone else's. Meanwhile, getting someone to treatment borders on the same territory. The bottom line is they both involve risk on the part of the rescuer. They involve relationships, getting involved face-to-face, person-to-person whereas handing someone a pamphlet or even arresting your basic drug user, does not. As Dick put it, the 'wrong' relationship is what gets people involved into drugs, the 'right' relationship will keep them out!
The first words against drugs are not to educate a child at age 8 or 10 about stranger-danger or to attend anti-drug lessons in school. The FIRST words against drugs are the ones a child hears before age 2—the ones that say, ‘you are a precious gift from God--to us, to me. We love you and can’t imagine life without you.” A child who hears and comes to believe those words has what is called SELF-ESTEEM. That is the real anti-drug. While it may seem an impossibly long term solution, it is obvious that the last 40 to 50 years of “A War On Drugs” involving everybody from the DEA, the FBI, and every local law enforcement agency in the US as well as billions of dollars has NOT worked. Maybe it’s time to try something different!
Laura L. Valenti, author
The Heart of the Spring,
The Heart of the Spring Lives On,
The Heart of the Spring Comes Home, and
The Heart of the Spring Everlasting
Between the Star and the Cross: The Choice and
Between the Star and the Cross: The Election
Ozark Meth: A Journey of Destruction and Deliverance with co-author Dick Dixon