Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Tragic Road of Addiction

Two days ago a man with a history of domestic violence shot and killed two prostitutes in downtown Ogden because “he was having fantasies, wondering what it would be like (to kill someone),” reports the Standard Examiner. Only time will tell whether this man pays a debt to justice or is ruled incompetent to stand trial.

The St-Ex also reports that both of the murder victims were homeless drug addicts that sold sex to support their drug habits. A ‘street woman’ who was a friend to one of the victims describes the 42-year-old woman as “one of the most desperate hookers in the city.” She worked her trade “24/7” to support her addiction to crack cocaine, which is one of the most expensive drugs on the street. She leaves behind four children that reside with her ex-husband in Evanston, Wyoming.

The other victim, a 25-year-old woman, didn’t have to turn as many tricks because her addiction to crystal meth was cheaper to support. She apparently has borne at least one child.

It seems from the articles that many of Ogden’s ‘street women’ have spent time in jail. It is considered a courtesy among them to remember each others’ release dates.

Unlike the standard Hollywood stereotype and tales of politicians buying high-class one-night-stands to the tune of $10K, there is nothing glamorous or attractive about the lives of these women. Equally depraved are the lives of the men that purchase their wares.

The ugly trails of these women’s shattered lives lead through wretched living conditions, self loathing, debasing behavior, and the numerous broken hearts of their children, partners, parents, siblings, and other family members. Each of these women was somebody’s daughter, somebody’s sister, somebody’s mother, somebody’s cousin, etc.

Some libertarians will say that the dreadful lives of women like this demonstrate the utter failure of the American war on drugs. But it’s difficult to see how legalizing crack cocaine and crystal meth would have made the lives of these women much better.

Perhaps the price would be a little lower if addicts were able to walk into their local Utah State Liquor Store and Head Shop to buy their dope. But making nasty drugs more easily accessible wouldn’t help these people bring their lives under control. Indeed, reducing the barriers to obtaining addictive drugs would arguably result in much higher rates of addiction and more shattered lives.

Some of the liberal stripe will whine that we need to spend more money on programs to help addicts. While many do benefit from addiction help programs, for whatever reason, some do not. All of the street women in Ogden have been afforded many opportunities (sometimes at the requirement of the law) to take advantage of these programs, but many still have the same problems. Simply spending more money on government programs isn’t going to help much.

One Utah radio show host this morning said that it is horrid that Ogden has a downtown area where prostitution is carried on pretty much in the open. He suggested that city officials get busy making downtown Ogden less friendly to this trade. In other words, take measures to transfer the trade somewhere else, since no extended society in recorded history has successfully eradicated the trade.

That sounds all nice and dandy. Maybe Ogden officials can get around to that issue right after they get rid of gang violence, stop drug abuse, stop domestic violence, and raise the economic status of all downtown residents to above poverty level.

Ogden Mayor Matthew Godfrey is in his third term of working to turn “a blighted old railroad town into an outdoor adventure mecca” (see 11-18-2007 D-News article). Not everyone is happy about this. Some would prefer to keep their nostalgic blight. Others would like to see improvements go in another direction. And others just have serious questions about the propriety of spending taxpayer dollars on costly entertainment venues.

If Godfrey is eventually successful, Ogden’s downtown district will slowly transform into an area that is more welcoming to middle (and upper) class people with some cash to spend. The nearby residential areas will transform as the market works to satisfy demand for classier living space. This will naturally push out the less savory residents and activities. But they will not go away. They will simply move elsewhere.

The murders of these street women were horrific events. The lives that they led and that others like them still lead are tragic. Legalizing recreational drugs isn’t going to improve their lot. Nor can they be forced to benefit from programs that are designed to help people in their situation. As unfortunate as some people’s choices are, their ability to make those choices can often be only temporarily abridged during jail terms. Unless they choose to change for the better, they have a ghastly road ahead of them.


Bradley Ross said...

These are hard stories to hear because they make me feel so helpless. I'm told that the fall of the asylum in America led to some of the problems we have with homelessness. I suspect that many of the people living these tragic lives have mental, emotional, and social challenges greater than we might imagine.

Unfortunately, once you fall into one of these ruts (drugs, gangs, illiteracy) it can be a mighty challenge to climb out. What can we do to level the field so that people have a better chance at having equal opportunities at life?

Scott Hinrichs said...

We are doing much already. As I noted, many do benefit from addiction help programs. But some do not. There has to be an element of individual will involved. Once the will is present the help is not hard to find.

I once listened to Glenn Beck talk about his road to recovery from alcohol addiction. He was able to bluff his way through rehab several times. But it never took until he "hit bottom," as he puts it. Then he got serious about getting real help.

Clearly, though, his hitting bottom was never as low as many get that have not hit what is their bottom. It makes me wonder if there is any logical "bottom" for some people. Perhaps some of this has to do with your observation on the fall of the asylum.

Still, let's remember that any vigilance or work that can be done to help people avoid getting into the course that leads to depravity saves a lot of trouble and resources on the other end. A stitch in time saves nine.

Anonymous said...

Pretty idealistic viewpoint. Addiction is not limited to the streets. Utah has the highest rate of prescription drug abuse in the country - the typical perp being housewife and mother. It's destructive in all its forms. But people on the street have far fewer options than sister Jones next door.

Easy for you to rant about those awful people and their choices from the comfort of your nice safe home and from the perspective of your good upbringing and education. I wonder what choices you would have made had you lived the life they had instead of the very blessed one you had.

Scott Hinrichs said...

Anon, you are, of course, correct that there are many Utahns that have hidden drug abuse problems. I have friends with such problems. It is a serious issue that needs to be dealt with.

But these people's issues usually aren't as severe as many among our street population. Also, the impetus for this article was the deplorable murders of two such street women. Had the murderer gone out and shot two prescription drug abusing housewives, I might have written about that.

Believe me, I thank God regularly that I have not been subjected to the conditions that brought about the victims' situations.