- - Wednesday, August 29, 2018


No one asks to be born. Yet the dawning of self-realization brings the inescapable challenge to make the best of life. Many “kill it,” figuratively speaking, surmounting the hurdles and making their time on earth a blessing to themselves and to their fellow men (and women, too, if it’s really necessary to say it). Most people manage to live graciously and seal their achievements to the gratitude of family and friends.

But some people just can’t get a purchase on the upward climb. Giving up, they walk off the obstacle course, self-medicate and brood over the fact that life is tough and three out of three people die. The trend toward chemical solutions to daily trials, abetted by increasingly permissive public policy, entices many Americans to hurry toward that inevitable open grave.

Not so long ago an escape into the drug culture (and often a life in Mommy’s basement) was something to be resisted. First lady Nancy Reagan famously led an anti-drug campaign with a simple message: “Just say no.” The initiative was intended to raise public awareness of drug abuse among young people in the 1980s, when self-discipline and the will to do well was still in season, but in the end the three little words were for many no match for the comfort of unopposed temptation. Abuse of lethal drugs is now a modern-day plague, egged on by a relaxed resistance that could be characterized by a new expression: “Just say OK.” The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention jarred the nation a year ago when it announced in mortifying tones that the U.S. death toll from drug overdose in 2016 had reached 60,000. Last week [Aug. 16] the CDC released the latest estimate for 2017 and the bad news grows worse: 72,287, a 10 percent increase over 2016. That’s more than the number of deaths from automobile accidents or guns.

Nearly 49,000 deaths were attributed to opioids — potent painkillers whose excessive prescription by physicians has contributed to the staggering body count. Synthetic opioids like fentanyl, a super-powerful concoction often brewed in China and smuggled into the U.S. through Mexico, catch users by surprise and turn a high into unexpected death.

Less lethal but still frightening is the proliferation of synthetic cannabis, or K2, which is often laced with fentanyl. Pot heads have taken to smoking it for a cheaper buzz. A batch of the stuff made the rounds in a public park in New Haven, Conn., last week. Within a few hours, dozens of ambulances were called to haul nearly 100 people to the hospital. Trendy state laws legalizing recreational marijuana are stoking the growing attitude that “your highness is your business.”

The spreading synthetic drug menace has triggered tremors in official Washington. President Trump last week directed the Justice Department to join the dozens of states that have filed lawsuits against certain drug manufacturers for delivering mountains of pain pills. The administration is mulling a plan to force drug firms to cut production of opioids by 10 percent over next year. Cutting supply without dealing with the fundamental cause of craving could simply fuel the illegal drug trade, making it more lucrative and more violent.

Congress, in its infinite weakness and faux wisdom, is drawing up criminal justice legislation that imposes mandatory minimum sentences. With drug-death rates exploding, this might encounter strong headwinds from voters who recognize it as going soft on prison time for “nonviolent” drug dealers, even if Congress doesn’t. Whether an overdose victim buys his fix from a gun-toting kingpin or a tie-dyed peacenik who missed the last streetcar home from the 1960s, he is still stone-cold dead.

Viewing one’s time on earth as an opportunity — “to be fruitful, multiply and replenish the earth,” as the Bible describes it — taken by innumerable earlier generations to struggle toward a brighter existence. Most Americans can count themselves fortunate that their forebears risked all on a dangerous journey to a faraway continent with nothing but to sustain them but faith and grit. Rather than escape tough circumstances via a head trip, better to lead a productive life with a debt to blood, sweat and tears.

Faith, family and freedom are not the sole ingredients of a purposeful life, but they sure beat opioids, marijuana and their synthetic knockoffs. Americans shouldn’t need Donald Trump to rescue them from the 21st century zeitgeist that nudges them to “just say OK” to drugs. It’s a matter of conscience.

The causes of craving may be locked too deeply in the recesses of the human psyche for modern medicine to root out, and there will likely always be those who cannot cope with the curveballs life hurls. Society owes them compassion, but not collusion in suicide. Rather than pot shops and shooting galleries, all that society owes them is a motivational kick in the rear end.

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