The first guy I knew who died of a drug overdose was 15. He was sniffing paint. The second was 17, and he passed out in a ditch and didn't wake up. He had injected something. Heroin, I think.
They were in high school, and so was I. All of my group did drugs, as did I, although in my case it was just booze and marijuana. Others did harder stuff, such as heroin (the first time I saw someone shoot up I was 16, although the first time I saw a needle kit I was 15).
I was hanging out in bars when I was 15. Actually that was a blast, although I almost always had one beer.
When I got out of high school all of us, except the disturbed ones who continued their entire lives, cut down tremendously or else quit. It didn't surprise me.
High school was a bore. It was without meaning or importance, so we used drugs and partied. There was rarely any sense of adventure, of having power over your own life, of having any mastery or competence over anything. Of feeling truly alive. Drugs, temporarily, kill the pain and make you feel alive.
I was reminded of this after reading about a study called Rat Park.
The study was in response to other studies that claimed heroin was so horrifying and so addictive that addicted rats could never get free of it. Turned out that wasn't true.
In the first studies rats were kept in cramped metal cages, tethered to a self-injection apparatus. Sometimes they injected until they died.
When they were placed in a normal rat environment with play, food, and a place to raise their families, their "addictions" went away.
...tethered to a cage with a self-injection apparatus. Hm. Sounds like my time in public schools.
In college I drove a taxi and ended up driving at night. I got to know some working girls quite well, and ended up driving for an "escort" service. The couple who ran it were heroin addicts. After a while they wanted to quit. (By the way, they were actually pretty good people...so much for the myth about heroin addicts.)
It wasn't hard for them. Took about a month. Then they got out of their business and got real jobs. When I was working for them I always had this oppressed feeling, as if the whole thing was a prison with invisible bars.
"Drug addiction" isn't a thing by itself. It's connected to everything else in society - a decent job and a solid family, for two. And having importance, meaning and community is your life. The last three are absolutely necessary. Without them you have nothing.
It is those who are isolated, without meaning, importance and community, who generally become the heavy drug users. It's cultural dislocation - or the destruction of your culture - that does you in.
Some people, of course, are always going to use drugs. The poor (in character) are always with us.
As bad as high school was, middle school was worse. It was a kind of hell. I remember thinking, what happened? This is horrible. Even then I knew it was because a bunch of strange kids were shoved together in a crowded rat cage. It was utterly unnatural.
It is obvious that you can gauge the health of a society by the condition of the young. Those who drop out of high school, those who are addicted to drugs, those who live on welfare, who don't want to work at horrible jobs, those who end up in jail.
And yet many think that force and fraud - police, jails, blaming the lack of importance, meaning and community on them and not society - is the answer to these ills.
I am reminded of a wonderful book by Bill Bryson, about his growing up in a different world - the '50s in Des Moines, Iowa. The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid.
Bryson ended his book with this comment: "What a wonderful world it was. We won’t see its like again, I’m afraid." I knew a bit what he was talking about, but mostly it seemed like a fantasy world, like Brigadoon.
Decades before I read Bryson, I read a horrifying novel by Norman Spinrad called The Men in the Jungle.
I was about 13, I suppose.
The novel was about blood, pain, murder, sexual perversions, drug use, political power over others. It was a hell on earth. When I compared Bryson's autobiography to Spinrad's novel, it was the difference between heaven and hell.
Spinrad's novel reminded of what Dostoyevsky wrote in The House of the Dead: "Whoever has experienced the power and the unrestrained ability to humiliate another human being automatically loses his own sensations. Tyranny is a habit, it has its own organic life, it develops finally into a disease. The habit can kill and coarsen the very best man or woman to the level of a beast. Blood and power intoxicate ... the return of the human dignity, repentance and regeneration becomes almost impossible.”
The difference between Bryson and Spinrad was the growth of the State and everything that goes along with it - Cosmodemonic Transnational Corporations and "multiculturalism," for two hideous examples.
In Bryson's book the State was never mentioned because it was barely there. In Spinrad's novel it was a world-wide tyranny.
Right now, in many ways, America is closer to Spinrad than Bryson.