America’s Drug Epidemic: Our Greatest Threat

| October 5, 2014 | 0 Comments

George Mitrovich

The drug epidemic sweeping our country is someone else’s problem until it becomes your problem, as it has become our family’s problem.

But most families so affected are silent because they’re ashamed and they wish to keep their family’s “shame” private; but silence is not an option, because until we have a public discussion of our drug epidemic, up close and personal, there’s no chance in hell we will ever get past it.

Drug addiction is an illness, a sickness, a disease, and as cancer should not shame one’s family neither should drug addiction.

You may be thinking, “A drug epidemic, how have I missed that?”

You missed it because you haven’t been paying attention. As I was not paying attention until confronted by it in our family with a grandson who became a drug addict – a grandson I love more than I love my own life.

The shock of recognition came hard, and nothing about it has been pleasant. Nothing. It has been a terrible ordeal for all of us, his mother, grandmother, uncles, family and friends; but most of all for him, attempting to understand his addiction and how he gets past it – and if he gets past it.

In January the governor of Vermont, Peter Shumlin, devoted his entire State of the State speech to the drug epidemic sweeping beautiful Vermont. Never before in US history has a governor devoted an entire speech to one subject. Governor Shumlin did that because in one year heroin addiction rose by 770 percent in his state – 770 percent is not a misprint!

Yet, it wasn’t until a famous actor, Phillip Hoffman, was found dead in the bathroom of his apartment in New York City, a heroin syringe sticking out of his arm, did the epidemic make the evening news that night and the front pages of the world’s newspapers the next day.

Until then, the epidemic was not a “news story.”

When I asked Bonnie Dumanis, the District Attorney of San Diego County, if she ever gave speeches about drugs? she answered, “All the time, but media pays no attention, because it doesn’t fit conveniently into a ‘sound bite’.”

Following the news about Hoffman’s shocking death, there was such a rush of stories in the Boston Globe, for instance, of young people dead from heroin overdoses, Governor Deval Patrick of Massachusetts had no alternative but to declare a state health emergency, and the state’s Congressional delegation moved dramatically to convey its alarm, especially Senator Ed Markey (I will come back to this).

Other newspaper, including The New York Times and Washington Post “discovered” the story, and to their credit ran a series of articles of family tragedies resulting from drug addiction in states like Wisconsin and Virginia, but also knowing it was a pin prick on a monster.

But it is a story every law enforcement officer in America knows, as they must deal with the consequences of our epidemic every day – and they know incarceration is not the answer.

Once I understood the vast reach of our epidemic, I immediately resolved to do all within my abilities to confront it, and to ask of others a similar commitment – as I ask it now of you; a commitment to know the issue, to stay close to your families, and if parents, to know your children’s habits and friends – and take nothing for granted!

Thus in February The City Club, in sponsorship with La Jolla Country Day School, held our first program on our drug epidemic: a program that featured District Attorney Dumanis and La Mesa Police Captain David Bond. Subsequently, The Denver Forum, The City Club’s sister organization in Colorado, held a similar program, one featuring US Attorney John Walsh and Denver’s DA, Mitch Morrissey (and we made certain high school students were present, because drugs are present in our high schools in ways beyond your imagining).

More recently, on Saturday, September 20, The City Club, in partnership with First United Methodist Church of San Diego, Temple Emanu-El, and the YWCA, held another drug program, this time with US Attorney Laura Duffy, San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore, and our new Police Chief, Shelley Zimmerman.

But knowing that law enforcement alone can’t solve our epidemic, Dr. Greg LaDue, who heads the family life counseling center at First United Methodist, and Scott, Silverman, author of “Tell Me No. I Dare You!,” himself a recovering alcoholic and drug addict (29-years sober), spoke of the need for rehabilitation and wide public support for such programs.

It was quite stunning to me when Mr. Silverman asked the audience, “How many of you have drug problems in your families?” At least 90 percent of the audience raised their hands – including the US Attorney, Sheriff, Police Chief, the YWCA’s Heather Finlay, and Rabbi Marty Lawson of Temple Emanu-El and Reverend Craig Brown, senior pastor of First United Methodist Church.

If 90 percent of an audience of 130 people have faced, are facing, drug problems in their families, I dare you, in the spirit of Scott Silverman, to tell me this is not a national epidemic.

And yet, the Mayor of San Diego hasn’t been heard on our epidemic. The Governor of California hasn’t been heard. California’s two U.S. Senators haven’t been heard, which is why the response of Massachusetts Congressional delegation so impressed me. They weren’t waiting to be told we have a crisis; they knew the crisis is upon us.

But, the hard truth is, vast number of public officials in America have been silent on our drug epidemic – and most shocking of all is the silence of the President of the United States.

I simply don’t get Mr. Obama’s silence, since the niece of Vice-President Joe Biden, Caroline Biden, has had a series of drug and alcohol addiction issues; addiction problems that have found their way into New York newspapers. How serious are her addictions? Serious enough for her to have become, as many drug addicts do, delusional as to cause; in Ms. Biden’s case, blaming “Uncle Joe, because he’s the Vice President” (reports the New York Post).

When I asked District Attorney Dumanis how one tells when a drug addict is lying? She said, “When their lips are moving.” That response is not simply a prosecutors’ throwaway line, but is consistent with everything I’ve been told by experts, most of whom devote their professional careers to the healing and recovery of addicts. Indeed, in this journey of discovery, I’ve learned the behavior pattern of drug addicts is remarkably similar – no matter how varied the other circumstances of their lives.

I titled this, “America’s Drug Epidemic: Our Greatest Threat.” Do I mean, thereby, to suggest our drug epidemic is our nation’s “greatest threat?” I intend precisely that, because it is what I believe.

It is not a belief based upon our family’s crisis, I am not that myopic, but because I believe drug addiction is so vast, so wide spread, affecting millions of families, from rural to urban America, from public schools to our universities, from Main Street to Wall Street, that the long term national interest of our country is put at grave risk; that what Al Qaeda or the Taliban or ISIS cannot effect, drug addiction can and will affect to bring our country down, absent a massive movement, public and private, to confront the monster and kill it.

I beg of you – join the fight!

George Mitrovich is a San Diego civic leader – he can be reached at,

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"Mine Eyes Have Seen"