Criminal or Victim?

Yesterday afternoon, while I was working on a blog post that focused on substance abuse as primarily a public health issue, I received a text from my sister informing me that a friend from our church back home just committed suicide after years of battling addiction. While timely, my original blog—full of stats and research findings—failed to deliver context to what had suddenly become personal. That blog will have to wait another day. Today, I simply reflect on a human tragedy.

I met my friend in my church youth group.  She was popular, smart, boisterous, funny, energetic, enjoyed healthy sarcasm – in short, it was impossible to not know she was in the room. Somehow she just got lost along the way. This started with her hanging out with the wrong crowd and experimenting with drugs. Drugs claimed her life—like it has so many others— and she found herself trapped in a cycle between jail and rehab. Bless her heart. She tried. She started going back to church, became active in a local Celebrate Recovery program, and moved in with her supportive family.

I may not know why she put the gun to her head yesterday, but I know where the ultimate blame lies. Addiction shows no mercy.  I also know that if we are going to succeed in defeating drug addiction as a society, we must first understand the human condition of those who are consuming the market. Are they criminals or are they victims? Put it this way: Is my friend a drug criminal or is she a victim of drugs? Are they deserving of prison sanctions or in need of medical help?  How we answer that question will determine the outcome of the war on drugs and the number of casualties.



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