In a world of political correctness, where the term “addiction” has been replaced with “Substance Use Disorder”, Mike Davidson program manager from Roads to Recovery in Lynchburg, spoke with a refreshing frankness about drug abuse and addiction. Roads to Recovery in a non-profit community organization focused on long-term recovery drug addiction, including alcohol. The team also work as advocates to address harmful stigmas surrounding addiction.

While talking with the American Culture Program, Davidson pointed to different problematic ways that drug use and abuse are approached in American culture. He emphasized that there is a misconception that addiction is a habit to be penalized, stressing that it is a physiological illness that needs to be treated. He argued that putting people in jail was a poor use of time and money, not to mention gross mistreatment of people in jail. The most shocking detail he explained was pregnant women who were jailed for drug use giving birth–still shackled.

This mistreatment is not limited to women jailed for illicit drug use. In Michigan, a woman arrested for driving on a suspended license reported to the jail’s staff that she was going into labor three separate times over the course of the day. Several hours later, she was still at the jail and gave birth on the floor of her jail cell. Aside from inefficient, the flaws in the system are downright dehumanizing.

Drug users are not only stripped of humanity within the criminal justice system. Scholars critically examining drugs in America’s history and culture continually note the phenomena of ‘othering’ in which drugs are associated with groups outside of mainstream society. From opium to beer to marijuana, marginalized groups have been connected with the spread of drug use, and painted as a risk to the American way of life.

It is not until a drug is painted as a threat to the America’s women and children it is taken up as a concern, but not just any women and children. The final point that hit hard during his talk was when he pointed out that today, drug abuse becomes a visible problem once “white kids are doing it.” Drug use is spread across every demographic; however, as Davidson pointed out, there are few groups that are “more important” in our culture than white women and children. Once their interests are at risk (oh, we can’t let our children fall victim to these evil drugs!) the conversation about the drugs comes to the forefront of government and media. However, the focus remains on the drug use within a particular demographic. Policies focus more on targeting the “groups using the drug” rather than discussing the complexities of the issues, ways that drugs impact different communities, and how to help people as a whole struggling with drugs.