I start most of my weekdays with watching the show “All in the Family.” I find vintage television fascinating. It’s a journey through the human experience, a chance to more or less directly experience the culture of times past. This is especially true when speaking about a show that was not only a trailblazer in addressing social issues of its time, but also includes some of the best acting in television history by the late Carroll O’Conner, who played Archie Bunker.
Yesterday morning was no different. The episode was titled, “Archie’s Bitter Pill.” Archie had purchased a saloon and business was bad, money tight, bill collectors visiting – he was on the brink of losing everything. A friend introduces him to (what is presumed to be) speed to help him deal with the funk. The family begins to suspect something is up when Archie isn’t himself and they visit the bar while he is at work. Then the brilliance that is the following scene happens:
While I realize this was a mere television show that aired over 37 years ago, the point has not been lost with time. No one ever sets out to be a drug addict. Children don’t answer, “drug addict” when asked the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
The catalyst to drug use is often major life events one wishes to escape. However, compassion and empathy are often seriously lacking when the struggling individual is labeled a junkie. As cliché as it is, things really do happen for a reason. Substance abuse is no different, we just often overlook the reasons for the occurrence.
In an uncharacteristic, emotional closing to the show Archie says,
I don’t know what I’m doing at all. I don’t know what I’m doing here. I tried, Edith, you know. Lord knows I try. But I was wrong. I should have listened to you, darling, you know, you told me not to open up no bar. But, I wanted to be something big, you know. What the hell, I guess . . .I’m just a workingman. That’s all I’ll ever be.
I didn’t mean no harm, Edith. I didn’t mean no harm. . .
Certainly, Bunker’s character went on to be the same grumpy, conservative hyperbole that carried the show a few more seasons without a struggle with addiction. However, Archie’s vulnerability answered with Edith’s compassion that was depicted in this episode is one that serves as a welcomed reminder of the importance of empathy and understanding. Something that is and has been seriously lacking when waging a “war on drugs.”
According to drugpolicy.org, “over 1.6 million people are arrested, prosecuted and incarcerated, placed under criminal justice supervision and/or deported each year for a drug law violation.”
As pointed out in Wes Williams’ article, “New Report Says Jails Are Storage Depots For The Poor, Addicted, And Mentally Ill,” of the repeat offenders in New York followed in the Vera Institute of Justice’s report on jails in the United States, 99.4 percent were substance abusers. So rather than this issue be that of health and wellness, treating addiction like the disease it is, we treat the dependency on substances as a criminal act.
How much stronger of a nation would we become if we addressed the elephant in the room – the social issues and injustices that often fuel substance abuse? How much better would we be if we treated dependency on substances and addiction as a matter between doctor and patient, rather than jailer and criminal?