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Take It From Me: Addiction Doesn’t Start At the Border

| February 20, 2019

'If we want to cut down on our drug problem, we need to cut down on the factors that cause addiction in the first place,' the author writes. (Kevin Karns Family)

‘If we want to cut down on our drug problem, we need to cut down on the factors that cause addiction in the first place,’ the author writes. (Kevin Karns Family)

By Jill Richardson

As the sister of a brother lost to an opioid overdose, Trump’s claim that we need a border wall in order to keep drugs out is offensive to me on multiple levels. Fact checkers also report that his claims are not true — a border wall would not keep drugs out of our country.


After the death of my brother a decade ago, I went looking for answers about drugs and addiction. Gabor Mate, a medical doctor who treated addicts in Vancouver, found that his patients had all suffered severe trauma before succumbing to addiction. He wrote a book, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, explaining how trauma makes the brain more susceptible to addiction.

That was also the finding of the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study. The study surveyed patients about whether they experienced 10 different types of stressful or traumatic experiences (called ACEs for short) in childhood: various types of abuse, parents divorcing, a parent going to prison, or a parent suffering addiction or mental illness. Then it correlated their scores with a number of illnesses.

The higher your ACE score, the more likely you are to suffer alcoholism, drug addiction, or a host of other health problems.

My brother and I both experienced childhood trauma. I ended up suffering anxiety, depression, and chronic migraines. He developed panic attacks and coped with his pain by binge eating and using drugs. I’m told the day he overdosed was only the third time he’d ever used heroin. He was alone in his apartment, age 23.

other-wordsThrough random chance, I was luckier than he was. Life dealt us both severe pain, but for me the pain took a form that was less deadly and more conducive to getting help. His death was my catalyst to get therapy. It’s taken a decade, but I finally feel like my life has turned around.

When just getting through everyday life hurts so very much, drugs present a welcome relief. I don’t think I’m a better person than he was; I was just luckier. Trauma left him susceptible to addiction, and for some reason it just landed me with 20 years of migraines.

The U.S. has tried to solve its drug problem by cutting off the supply of drugs coming through its borders since at least the 1980s. It hasn’t worked. Neither has prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenses. In fact, these approaches have only made the problem worse, and created many others besides.

If we want to cut down on our drug problem, we need to cut down on the factors that cause addiction in the first place. We must work on reducing the amount of trauma, poverty, and despair Americans experience and offer help to those who’ve suffered so they can overcome it.

We should also reduce demand for illegal drugs by offering safe, legal, and regulated drugs when they can provide health benefits, as medical marijuana has done for me.

Even if a border wall were a cost effective and feasible way to keep drugs from coming over the border (which according to virtually every expert, it isn’t), it would do nothing to address the root causes of addiction in America.

When people are in pain, they’ll find a way to get drugs. So long as there’s a market for illegal drugs, traffickers will find ways to produce them here or bring them in. The real answer to the illegal drug trade is addressing the root causes of addiction.

 Jill Richardson is the author of “Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It.” She is a columnist for OtherWords.org

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19 Responses for “Take It From Me: Addiction Doesn’t Start At the Border”

  1. Mark says:

    Of course a wall won’t stop drugs from being brought into the country. But, it would help slow the flow. Do you know the amount of drugs brought in through the open portion of the border? Thought so.

  2. Proud Military Wife says:

    Jill, it’s called taking ownership of your feelings and having personal responsibility. The Wall is not to stop drugs… it’s to deter illegal immigration. Your facts are speculative and lack proof. Just because you read something or hear it spoken does not validate it’s authenticity.

    I know many successful people who have endured significant trauma and loss, they did not turn to drugs. They owned their life and overcame adversity. Addiction starts as a choice… not as a reaction.

  3. FPC Granny says:

    Ms. Richardson my heart goes out to you for any despair you are experiencing. But in my seasoned golden years of life, I have heard so many times how “trauma in childhood” is the root of all evil. I personally feel that once you are 18 years old you have a pretty good handle on right and wrong and anything you do after that it is the persons choice. I believe it is a crutch for people to blame the parents for adult children’s actions. I also believe that a wall is only one part of the equation of border security. As the wall is not the end all. The wall is “only one” portion of the deterrent to keep our country safe. Along with other measures, the wall is a means of adding to security at the borders.

  4. Vinnie says:

    This is a dumb article. Unless we start growing Poppie Fields in the USA, the heroin has got to come from other countries.

  5. Richard says:

    I agree with Jill on this subject that this country needs to put more resources together to address the ROOT cause for drug addiction in order to reduce the use of drugs. If the demand goes down then the supply will go down also. BUT until that happens and the demand is still greater than the supply, drugs will pour over ALL of our borders one way or another. In regards to the wall being built on the southern border it is not ONLY to address drugs but many other criminal situations. It HAS to be completed!

  6. palmcoaster says:

    Most drug users currently addicted to pharma meds manufactured by daily consumption in USA and has nothing to do with border crossing drugs. Then other than wasting billions in a useless wall why aren’t those billions used in rehab, drug use prevention and mental health treatment?

  7. Agkistrodon says:

    MOST drug addiction, starts, with an INDIVIDUAL doing drugs. Simple CHOICE. It is NOT like these drugs were just invented and this is all “new”. If you think you can play with these substances and not get hooked, ROLL the dice. But then don’t come to me for sympathy, cause I have none for you, YOU made YOUR choice.

  8. Fredrick says:

    You have my sympathy for the loss of your brother and the trauma that both of you went through. You are also correct that the wall is not the answer. It is only part of it. Saying that the wall is needed to reduce the flow of drugs is like saying go ahead and hand out heroin on the street corner for free. What do you do until the “treatment solution” works. How many more people have to die? Do we just hand it out to those who do not seek or unwilling to go to treatment? And the wall is more than limiting the flow of drugs (it will not eliminate it) but limiting the flow of people entering the country ILLEGALY. LEGAL immigration is welcomed and encouraged.

  9. Pogo says:

    @Republican hypocrites

    What about the slobs you follow as if you’re addicted to them?
    https://ethicsunwrapped.utexas.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/19-Limbaugh-on-Drug-Addiction-688×382.png

    “Limbaugh on Drug Addiction

    Debates on the distribution, sale, and use of illegal drugs have been prominent in United States politics for the past several decades. Political commentator and talk show host Rush Limbaugh has become well known for his outspoken opinions on a number of political and social issues, including drug abuse.

    During his talk show on October 5, 1995, Limbaugh stated: “There’s nothing good about drug use. We know it. It destroys individuals. It destroys families. Drug use destroys societies. Drug use, some might say, is destroying this country. And we have laws against selling drugs, pushing drugs, using drugs, importing drugs. And the laws are good because we know what happens to people in societies and neighborhoods which become consumed by them. And so if people are violating the law by doing drugs, they ought to be accused and they ought to be convicted and they ought to be sent up.” Limbaugh argued that drug abuse was a choice, not a disease, and that it should be combatted with strict legal consequences…”
    https://ethicsunwrapped.utexas.edu/case-study/limbaugh-drug-addiction

  10. Agkistrodon says:

    POGO I am Not a Republican hypocrite so spare me. I am neither R nor D and I feel the same about all drug addicts regardless of their political persuasion, I feel NO sympathy for them. It just does not factor in. But for a “Tolerant” person like yourself Political persuasion is EVERYTHING. You only “tolerate” what Thinks like you, and that makes you prejudiced as well, Politically prejudiced.

  11. PCer says:

    Millions of dollars in drugs poured into S. Florida in the 80s. No wall was going to stop it then, just like no wall will stop it now.

  12. Nancy N. says:

    It’s stunning how many commenters here think they know more about addiction than experts in the field who’ve studied it for years and done scientific research in the topic. Do you also tell your doctor how to do your surgery, your accountant how to do your taxes, etc? If you truly cared about ending addiction, you would actually listen to the people who know the most about it, instead of just shaming and blaming.

  13. flagler1 says:

    It’s very hard to protect someone from themselves.

  14. Charlie says:

    palmcoaster,,,,,, you are definitly WRONG if you believe most addiction is from Pharma Meds. The actual % is from illegal Fentanyl and Heroin smuggled in from other countries. Please do your research before posting .

  15. Sherry says:

    Before we start the “in your face” disrespectful “you are definitely WRONG” statements against others. . . @ Charlie, please post a link to credible evidence for your statement.

    Let’s all take the time to get educated on the subject. This report from the CDC show some interesting FACTS about the “legal” drug abuses and the Opioid Crisis:

    Take a good read:

    https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/epidemic/index.html

  16. Pogo says:

    @Nancy N.

    Bravo, brilliantly stated; sadly, a large part of the comments one reads here are the kind of callous cracks uttered by those who slow to gawk at traffic accidents and wander from crime reporting to gossip – littering the world with their wretched cynical nihilism so typical of Libertarians and Republicans.

  17. Citizen says:

    Imagine how many drugs would be in our country if the existing wall and security check points didn’t exist. If you think a wall doesn’t “work” why not take down what we have and see what happens!

  18. Bill says:

    How about we take all the $$$$$$$ given to Planed parent hood and any tax breaks they get and use it for drug rehab over their killing of the unborn?

  19. Sherry says:

    Wow! How very easy it is to allow ourselves to be manipulated into the “blame game” of “fear and hate” of “THEM”, “THOSE”, “OTHERS”.

    Factual evidence indicates that our drug overdose crisis has a number of contributing factors including plenty of blame to go around for our medical community and “Big Pharma” in their pursuit of MONEY! NO WALL alone will fix this tragic problem. The solution begins here at home.

    More educational material:

    http://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/opioids/opioid-overdose-crisis

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