My Application Letter to Be America’s Drug Czar
Substance.com offers a privileged glimpse of a game-changing piece of private correspondence.
Now that we are normalizing drug use, I’ve decided to apply to be drug czar. Here’s my application letter.
Dear Mr. President,
I couldn’t help but notice that your new drug czar, just like the previous one and all the others, opposes decriminalizing drug use. I also noted that Mr. Botticelli has been in recovery for 25 years, which means for him abstinence.
Here’s my problem with that: Why have as the head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy someone who doesn’t take drugs or drink because he doesn’t believe he is able to control his substance use? You don’t pick as the head of the FDA someone who won’t take a prescription, or as head of the FBI someone who won’t fire a gun, do you? And you wouldn’t put a celibate in charge of sex and procreation. (My apologies to Roman Catholics.)
Here’s my logic, Mr. President: Why not pick someone who has demonstrated the ability—whether throughout their life, or as developed at a later age—to enjoy alcohol and other drugs without causing problems for themselves and others? In fact, I recollect from your memoir that you are such a person; you know more about controlling drug use than your own drug czar!
I took ecstasy for the first time in my sixties and I toked up with an old friend this summer on a raft trip.
But you’re busy. So I propose myself for drug czar. Here are my qualifications. I have one-to-two drinks daily, and I like them. I took some drugs when I was in my teens and twenties (it was the ‘60s, you know). I did the usual: pot, a couple of psychedelics. And let me disclose completely here: I did shoot and snort heroin a couple of times in my early twenties, just to see what it was like. I know you did some “blow.” Like you, I suffered no problems from my drug use.
Was our use of drugs unusual? Not so much, to judge from research by government agencies. According to the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), more than half of young adults have used marijuana, 12% have used cocaine, 13% ecstasy and nearly 85% have drunk. In the past year alone, the NSDUH estimates, a third had used marijuana, and around 80% had drunk.
So who can best represent and lead the majority of Americans towards healthy substance use? Look no further!
Like you—and unlike Mr. Botticelli, who has never discussed his use of drugs other than alcohol—I can be honest about my drug use. In that vein, I didn’t totally cease using substances later in life, even as a parent. My ex-wife and I drank wine with dinner and kept a bottle of vodka in the freezer. And she and I did do some pot and even some LSD when the kids were away or as they got older. As mature adults, we enjoyed ourselves.
Ultimately, our approach worked for our kids. I’m not saying our three children didn’t do this or that in their past, and none of them abstains today. But they all control their substance use and lead constructive lives as adults. So I can honestly say (ahem) that I was a good role model in this area.
And I still am. At this point in my life, I rarely take drugs. Although drug use by baby boomers is more common than in previous cohorts their age, such senior drug use is invariably portrayed negatively. But I see nothing wrong with it, and under the right circumstances I would use any drug I have in the past again, or others (I am 68). For instance, I took ecstasy for the first time in my sixties and I toked up with an old friend this summer on a raft trip.
Of course, I’ve also had way more powerful narcotics than street heroin, like when I had my knees replaced. (Has Mr. Botticelli really not had a single painkiller in 25 years?)
Mr. Botticelli has firmly indicated his belief that marijuana should remain illegal. Meanwhile a majority of Americans will use drugs, and a number of states have legalized, or are considering legalizing, marijuana use. California’s Proposition 47 proposes to reduce personal heroin and cocaine use to misdemeanor penalties.
People resist and overcome problematic substance use by having a larger purpose and being positively engaged, feeling that they can cope with life (and with drugs and alcohol), and embracing values that rule out excessive substance use.
In a world where drugs are ubiquitous, wouldn’t it be better to have a chief officer for national drug control policy who focuses on managing use of drugs and alcohol, instead of banning them? My work over decades has identified the ways in which people resist and overcome problematic substance use by having a larger purpose and being positively engaged, feeling that they can cope with life (and with drugs and alcohol), and embracing values that rule out excessive substance use.
And isn’t it a recommendation that I have used or still use these substances enjoyably, without problems? No one should criticize Mr. Botticelli for his past substance problems. But how does his having been forced to take the extreme measure of banishing substances entirely from his life (so far as we know) prepare him to deal with a world in which such substance use is commonplace and accepted?
Between us, Mr. President, would you seek financial guidance from someone who, because of his previous excessive spending, doesn’t currently manage his own money?
Of course, I don’t expect you to just take my word on my qualifications for the job. (By the way, how much does it pay?) I have asked three distinguished leaders in the field—Nora Volkow, Bill Miller and Gabor Maté—to submit letters of recommendation on my behalf. You should be receiving them any time now.
P.S.: And while I’m at it, I also nominate myself for Secretary of State—I correctly predicted that our current approach can’t succeed in Iraq.
Stanton Peele, a columnist for Substance.com, has been at the cutting-edge of addiction theory and practice, including uncovering natural recovery, identifying addiction as being not essentially linked to drugs, and focusing on social forces and individual choice in addiction since writing (with Archie Brodsky) Love and Addiction in 1975. He has since written numerous other books and developed the online Life Process Program. His latest book, with Ilse Thompson, is Recover! Stop Thinking Like an Addict. His website is Peele.net.
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