“Kill your local casino owner.”
“Keep calm and kill your local wine and spirits shop clerk.”
“Kill your local McDonalds’ cashier.”
“Keep calm and kill your local opioid prescribing doctor.”
“Kill your local corner store owner who sells cigarettes.”
These sayings all sound pretty absurd, right? I mean, even though these people have a role in contributing to major public health concerns, to just haul off and advocate for the murder of them seems a little bit harsh, a little bit short-sighted and a whole lot troubling, doesn’t it? It seems a bit lacking in the humanity department, a bit barbaric and not even a real solution, right?
If you can see how disturbing and absurd these saying are, then perhaps you can see how disturbing and absurd the following one that seems to be growing in popularity is: “Kill your local drug dealer.”
In times of crisis, it is a natural human reaction to seek a scapegoat at which to direct our emotions and to grasp for quick fixes for finding some sort of resolution. It is natural to lose sight of the bigger picture when blinded by the fury of our own powerful emotional response. With the growing crisis of opioid related deaths cutting across the entire nation; with parents burying children, partners burying partners, children burying their parents and entire communities left devastated, it is certainly no wonder that many of us are experiencing this very human reaction to crisis.
While directing our emotional response to the opioid crisis at drug dealers can bring relief and a sense of resolution, there are a number of problems with this approach. First and most importantly, drug dealers are human beings too. They were once a cute little baby that everybody cooed at and loved on. They are somebody’s child or somebody’s parent. They are people – people who have gifts buried within them that the world needs to be brought out. I was a drug dealer at one point in my life and so were some of the most extraordinary, selfless, human beings I know today. Just as we must remember that people experiencing a substance use disorder are not beyond healing and redemption, so too must we remember this for the people who have found themselves in the position of selling drugs. There are many larger societal reasons for why people turn to selling drugs, too many to focus in on in this blog, and to not look at the bigger picture is to do an extreme disservice to the skills of critical thinking and real solution finding. It is also to do an extreme disservice to humanity.
Another reason why the approach of killing drug dealers is problematic -- well, beyond the fact that most of us agree killing is wrong -- can be found in two words: supply and demand. Prior to my entering recovery, if somebody would have killed my local drug dealer, I would simply have moved on to finding another one. If we are looking to kill all drug dealers as a solution to the opioid epidemic then we are looking to engage in a version of genocide that I never would have imagined as even an option in this country. The reality is that killing drug dealers is unequivocally not only inhumane and so far off the scale of our collective moral compass but it is also not even a viable solution.
For those of us involved in addiction recovery advocacy and service work, it is important that we lead the way to real solutions. It is important that we never fall to the short-sighted response of directly or indirectly advocating for the killing of drug dealers – whether in jest or on the wave of a rising emotion after yet another death. It is important that we actively engage people in conversation who have succumbed to seeing drug dealers as the root of the problem and the extermination of them as the solution. It is important that we educate policymakers in this country who may not necessarily believe that the execution of drug dealers is the answer, such as is happening in other countries, but instead believe that archaic sentencing guidelines and mass incarceration is the solution. It is important that we take care of ourselves, tend to our own mental and emotional well-being and manage to rise above our initial human reactions in order to model the way toward true progress. We can be sad, we can be angry, we can be fed up – but we must always do our best to be part of the real, humane and big picture solutions.