When Rob Ford, Mayor of Toronto, finally admitted to having smoked crack cocaine, the media erupted and a plethora of experts weighed in with opinions about drug use. The story has even been followed daily in US new media, which often ignores what happens north of its border.
But for many members of the public, drug use – legal or illegal – seems to be an everyday occurrence of little note. One recent article in Huffington Post Canada, referring to the Rob Ford debacle, had a title that said, “Rob Ford: It’s not about crack, it’s about crime.”
I disagree. To minimize the drug issue in this way is confusing and a mistake. Canadians need to be looking far more seriously at why drug use of all kinds has become so normalized. Mayor Ford’s problem is also ours, shining an uncomfortable spotlight on the escalation and mainstream use of drugs in Canada.
In a weekend radio discussion with Rex Murphy on CBC regarding public reaction to Rob Ford’s drug use, a listener said he felt that recreational drug use has become so mainstream that we no longer consider it to be a big deal.
However, there is a cost here that no one is talking about. And it is huge. What starts out as a pain relief method or a recreational or social habit can quickly become destructive to many people’s lives, and the health problems that go with it are affecting society in every way. Consider some sobering statistics:
1. 47,000 Canadian deaths are linked to both legal and illegal psychoactive drug abuse;
2. Canada consumes more opioids on a per capita basis than the United States – both legal and illegal drugs;
3. The use of crack cocaine has reached an all-time high in Canada;
4. Alcohol abuse is one of Canada’s top health threats according to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.
As a society we are very conflicted about the use of drugs. We consider there are “good” and “bad” drugs. But information about what is a “good” drug changes, causing confusion.They are all pervasive in our society, used for every conceivable life issue we can, or can’t, imagine. While we turn our backs on the struggling addict on the street and resist them living in our communities, we look the other way when our neighbor with a job uses the same drug – not considering that the drug’s destructive effects may be putting him on the street in a couple of years. So what does this confused message teach the next generation?
I can remember sitting one day waiting for a bus and overhearing a discussion amongst some young people who were boasting proudly of their drunken behaviour from the previous night and looking forwards to the next evening of oblivion. Then, one of the young women said: “I am so tired of getting drunk all the time.” I felt compassion and sadness as I listened to their ongoing chatter, including the incessant teasing of the young woman who clearly wished to stop the behaviour but was not sure how.
Canadians use drugs for many reasons – to enhance performance, to deal with stress or….. to just “fit in,” to name a few examples. There are also psychological and physical reasons as to why we turn to them. While drugs may seem helpful in some cases, we are increasingly reaching for drugs to solve every health and life problem we face, even small ones. And demand is growing. Why is that? – After all, we are by no means the only generation to feel pressured by life’s challenges or run up against the common cold. But we are clearly the first to overwhelmingly accept that we can solve all things through a drug, and in such large numbers, cutting across all ages and social levels.
It may seem easier to take a medication than to change the way we live or think, but the stats show that we do not need to be so medicated and studies indicate that much of it is bad for us. For example:
1. A study out of the US shows that many of us request a prescription for antibiotics every time we have a cold, even though studies show they are largely ineffective.
2. Alan Cassels, an independent drug researcher from the University of Victoria, published an article this week in the Times Colonist citing an American study on the overuse of statins for lowering cholesterol that shows they are often ineffective. Though universally used, a change of lifestyle and diet may often remedy the situation.
3. The Canadian Public Health Journal warns that overuse, or binging on alcohol for stress relief brings an increased risk for a whole host of illnesses.
There are other ways to resolve the problems so many of us face. Many who are struggling with sickness, stress, pain or depression long to be free of the medications to which they have become dependent, and are searching for non-medical approaches. And many are finding relief in adopting such methods as exercise, diet, meditation or naturopathy. What they are discovering is noteworthy – that a change of thought is helpful in how they approach their health.
Recently, when talking with a young friend who is a yoga teacher with a regular practice of meditation, she commented, “meditation does not stop the negative thoughts from coming, but it helps us to deal with them in an effective, healthy way.” She agrees that many people are beginning to understand the role that thought plays in how we react to events in our life – be they good or bad.
Another practice that deals with thought and its relationship to our health is prayer. Now out of fashion and much misunderstood, the practice of Christian prayer has historically been taught as a way to quiet the human mind – by finding a deeper, spiritual peace. There are many different forms of prayer, but the one I’ve found most helpful is the one Jesus advised to his followers – that is, to take time, even for a few moments, to leave the noisy world and to find a quiet and private place to connect with the divine, and most especially, to gain a sense of being deeply loved. This slower, more thoughtful approach to life can bring practical answers to life challenges, and can be realized one moment at a time.
Each one of us, individually, has that opportunity to move away from drug dependency for coping with life. Rather than merely “managing” poor health or simply delaying pressures and fears with drugs, we can take control of our thinking. By so doing, we can find greater freedom and become a far healthier country.
This article was first published in the Vancouver Sun HERE