The idea of a war on drugs emerged during the Nixon presidency in 1971. The United States government established policies that focused their efforts on disrupting the production, distribution and consumption of psychoactive drugs which the U.S. government included in the controlled substance act. 47 years later, the drug war has lead to a dramatic increase of incarceration rates in the U.S. According to findings by the Washington Post in 2008, 1 in every 4 prisoners in the world are in the U.S. This is currently the highest incarceration rate in the world.
The controversial solution to these problems revolve around drug education. Groups like Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) have been formed with the hopes of ending the war on drugs and replacing propaganda with education. Specifically, education on risk prevention, harm reduction, and crisis response. Rocky Mountain College hosts a chapter of the SSDP organization. The chapter is made up of a president, vice president, and the peer education team. It advocates for victims of the drug war, and aims to destigmatize substance use. This is done with the goal of furthering research and education into substances and their effects, as well as optimizing harm reduction efforts. A couple of members of the chapter include vice president Bella Goss, and peer educator Eli Everson.
“Initially, I was not sure about the organization” said Goss, “I grew up in Wyoming and we have very conservative drug policies and I did not learn much about it when I first got to college. My friend Molly Davis introduced me to the organization and the idea of sensible drug policies. We really want to see the world change its outlook on the way we look at different substances whether that is through education, policies and experiences.”
Goss went on to say “I like priding our chapter on what its members feel like we need to change within our community at the moment. I work a lot with education, so I want to develop an all encompassing education program that public schools and colleges can use. Anything that is different from the abstinence based approach that D.A.R.E. has taken on. The nationwide organization has a mission statement to encourage sensible drug policy, and getting students on board since we are the ones coming up who are going to experience these policies when put into place. But every chapter’s mission is different based on what the chapter needs.”
The mission of the SSDP chapter at Rocky Mountain College is to educate and reform the current policies of enforcing certain drug laws. SSDP does not condone or condemn the use of drugs. It is recognizes, without judgement, that substance use is a very real part of the community and society as a whole. It aims to take action upon that recognition.
Eli Everson is a member of the SSDP peer education team. “The organization holds the belief that people have the right to govern what they put into their bodies. People also have the right to the information on the substances they choose to consume. From these core beliefs stems all of our organizations efforts”
Everson went on to say, “Here in Billings, and Rocky Mountain College, we have students coming from a variety of educational backgrounds, including varying degrees and reliability of drug education. Our job is to make sure that we have a standardized substance education platform, from which we can provide information that is both accurate and applicable to our student body. A standardized drug education program is crucial whether a student engages in substance abuse, recreational use, or simply finds themselves in a situation that such behavior is occurring. Students with accurate information are vital tools in the harm reduction effort. Our goal is to increase the number of students with these life saving tools”
The Rocky Mountain College SSDP chapter also aims to get its members certified to peer educate and work with Residence Life. They aim to put together a drug education program for incoming freshman during orientation. The efforts of the local chapter are tailored to the needs of the students. On a national level, the organization is active in reforming drug policies from medical marijuana to psychedelic assisted psychotherapy.
“I think the war on drugs has been nothing but harmful to society” said Goss, “It is racist and separates classes in its design. The war on drugs has been very harmful to our society, all the wrong people have been targeted, and it’s not just about preventing substance abuse. Along with being a money pit, it has caused a lot of tension within our society that should not be there. It was really developed for all the wrong reasons. In that sense I think it is flawed in its entire design.”
The bottom line is that any drug can be harmful when used irresponsibly. The true danger of schedule 1 drugs lie in the prohibition of them and a lack of education when it comes to the effects. We know that people are going to use drugs regardless if laws tell them not to. The approach will not be that of opening the floodgates and having drug dealers run amok in the streets. The idea is to both legalize and regulate the production, distribution, and consumption of drugs.