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“Just Say No”

February 5, 2021

In September, 1986 Nancy Reagan said the truth: if people simply declined to use drugs there would be no drug crisis. Drugs are unnecessary. No one is forced to use them. They cost money. They have demonstrable risk and real damage.

“Just Say No”

It was instant parody: an old, white, rich woman saying “Don’t” like a grandparent on The Andy Griffith Show. So lame as to be printed on heroin baggies as a joke.

In the last decade so many used opioids, most having been told to use them with the same moral standing as Nancy – while simultaneously told to “Just Say No” when the pain stopped – that addiction to them skyrocketed. Yesterday the venerable McKinsey & Co. Settled a lawsuit to pay over $500 million to address the issue, and admit that their promotion in the service of drug companies was destructive.

People do things that hurt them, because before those things hurt them, their acts give them joy. No helmet on a motorcycle. The 3rd drink. Smoking cigarettes. Playing football. Now, just being with other people.

I am the poster child of “Just Say No”. I have never smoked anything of any kind. I have never taken any chemical of any kind for any effect other than clearing my nose or keeping my blood pressure below death defying levels. But, occasionally I have the third drink. If I could play football now, it would be unalloyed joy.

Now, I leave the doors open to the outside down to 35 degrees and have our air conditioners on at my office to prevent infection when more than I am in the office. I have not eaten inside a restaurant since one mistaken reservation last June. I insist those I am near wear a mask.

There is a new “Just Say No” that is being loudly inveighed, creating enormous anger. The righteous focus on the willful disregard for safety in these universal effort to staunch the spread of a pandemic. The righteousness of “Just Say No” ignores the reason I love football. Or drink at all, let alone the third drink.

People are you, but not only you.

I know people who smoke pot every day. They could not start their day without smoking a joint, They are addicted, but fully functional. I could not say to them “Just Say No”.

Before this plague, a full century was lived with gatherings, hugs, intimacy. For many it was a loving addiction. Now, some, simply say “Just Say No” to the ways humans live and they are mortified when the danger to others is ignored by those who go to church or have a barbecue. Like Nancy Reagan.

in their isolation opioid users now have less reason to stop and more reason to use, and overdoses are up 30%. Suicides are up, too, in the sequestration. More women are being beaten and raped. More children are being abused and raped. More murders are happening. And the government is sending out checks to somehow ameliorate a problem that is not just about money.

Prohibition increased drinking. Increased gun laws have meant record gun ownership. And every method of behavior control offered by every country in the world saw a huge surge this winter in cases in but all but a few places.

To simply believe that good and correct intentions are an answer to human reality is a large square peg driven into a round hole. Enough force and time drives the peg through the wood. But a lot of wood gets crushed.

I do not think that losing a year of education for students, or missing a cancer or heart diagnosis to treat a pandemic could be avoided, let alone the increased physical and mental damage of imposed sequestration. We can only do what we know we can do to avoid death.

But the human cost is not just in the numbers who die of Covid. Or get it. Those who cause the disease to spread more because they act irresponsibly are as wrong and dangerous as those who light up a cigarette or get high or drunk on the weekend.

But “Just Say No” did not work, it does not now. If the enemy is us, the tragedies of all the impacts are not collateral damage in a war effort against the enemy. Those being beaten, raped, overdosing or committing suicide are just you and me, too. Different, but the same.

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