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“I started using on a lark, a dare from a best friend who said that I was too chicken to smoke a joint and drink a quart of beer. I was fourteen at that time. After seven years of using and drinking I found myself at the end of the road with addiction. I was no longer using to feel euphoria, I was just using to feel some semblance of normality. Then I started having negative feelings about myself and my own abilities. I hated the paranoia. I hated looking over my shoulder all the time. I really hated not trusting my friends.
“I became so paranoid that I successfully drove everyone away and found myself in the terrible place no one wants to be in—I was alone. I’d wake up in the morning and start using and keep using throughout the day.” —Paul
“I was given my first joint in the playground of my school. I’m a heroin addict now, and I’ve just finished my eighth treatment for drug addiction.” —Christian
“The teacher in the school I went to would smoke three or four joints a day. He got lots of students to start smoking joints, me included. His dealer then pushed me to start using heroin, which I did without resisting. By that time, it was as if my conscience was already dead.” —Veronique
Today a full 16 percent of the U.S. population is dependent on alcohol, nicotine or other drugs. Another 27 percent of the general population engages in use of these substances in ways that put themselves and others at risk, including underage and adult excessive drinking, tobacco use, and misuse of pain relievers, stimulants and depressants. For a staggering 43 percent of the nation, then — nearly every other American — addiction and risky substance use are a matter of public health.
Addiction is America’s number one health care and health cost problem. Approximately 30 percent of our federal and state health care spending is attributable to this disease. Across all government spending, the total financial cost is nearly $500 billion annually.
The extent of human misery is incalculable.