For all Rob Ford's evident problems with alcohol, obesity and recklessly self-destructive behaviour, one of the more curious aspects of the scandal is the intense moral panic over crack, a drug he has acknowledged using perhaps only once, in a forgotten “drunken stupor.”
Ever since the crack chatter began, Ashok Krishnamurthy, who treats addictions, including crack, at a hospital and a homeless shelter in Toronto, said he has noticed an “unsettled feeling” among his patients, perhaps because it “reminded them of their own stories,” which are typically ignored on the dark margins of society.
Thirty years ago it was different. North America was gripped by fear of this demon drug that seemed to turn men into thieves, women into prostitutes, and children into orphans. “Crack babies” were said to be doomed and the “crack house” became the ultimate image of urban despair.
Today, crack use has settled down into yet another addiction problem, no more terrifying to the culture than OxyContin or crystal meth. But old stereotypes die hard.
“Everybody’s over crack,” said Dawn Moore, author of Criminal Artefacts: Governing Drugs and Users.
But when popular interest fades, “it doesn’t mean that that residual cultural resonance dies with it … And when it gets paired in an unfamiliar way, like with a mayor of a major city, then all of those same fears and all that same cultural baggage comes flooding back in.”
As a “racialized” drug associated with poor, urban, black America, crack conjures scary images that tap every vein of social insecurity.
“We expect that middle-class 40-year-olds from Outremont, [Montreal], will smoke pot every now and then, but we do not expect that white middle-class guys from the suburbs of Toronto will smoke crack. It’s just not part of our cultural script,” said Prof. Moore, an associate professor of law at Carleton University.
As she puts it, crack is a “leper.” Insofar as crack stigma intersects with identity politics, an overweight, middle-aged, white suburban guy gets the worst of it. Mr. Ford can claim no institutional racism, no persecution by biased cops, no historical disadvantage, nor a life of poverty that cut him off from opportunity and doomed him to drug abuse.
Rather, he comes from a rich family in Etobicoke, a leafy inner Toronto suburb, and lives on a riverside park. And so to the smug hipsters at Gawker and the prim moralists at the Toronto Star — and also apparently a vast cross-section of Canadian society — crack use is simply an embarrassment, a freak show.
As stigma of mental illness and addiction takes an ever more-prominent role in research, funding and messaging, it is worth remembering this embarrassment is precisely what stigma is all about. It erases the crucial difference between seeing a user as wicked or diseased, and blurs the lines between blame, shame, empathy and care.
“Society has made its judgment on crack,” said Dr. Krishnamurthy. It is not kind.
Ian Smith/Postmedia News/FileApparently, to a vast cross-section of Canadian society — crack use is simply an embarrassment.
In a column that upends the foundational principle of addiction treatment by announcing Mr. Ford “can’t be saved,” Star columnist Christopher Hume opined in ancient Rome, the mayor “would have been banished, sent into exile and forbidden from returning to the city,” which he called “a sentence worth resurrecting,” unlike, presumably, feeding Christians to lions.
Shame, he wrote, the mayor has such broad support from “suburban Torontonians,” who likewise “see little value in the city, prefer Tim Hortons and choose to drive everywhere.”
Crack, in this analysis, is always someone else’s problem. It is, in the lingo, “other.”
Undercutting all this is a sense if Toronto’s shameless mayor will not ‘fess up to his shame, then the whole city will contort in gleeful embarrassment on his behalf, egged on by international media that started to lose interest almost as fast as they picked up the story. As The Onion aptly put it in a satire of Americans: “Nation Not About to Start Giving A Shit About Canadian Politics.”
Nothing like this greeted U.S. President Barack Obama’s admission he used “a little blow,” meaning cocaine. Nor was Mr. Ford’s defeated rival, George Smitherman, denounced as depraved when he told a gala at Toronto’s Centre for Addiction & Mental Health that for five years he was addicted to what he called “party drugs,” which he did not identify, except as stimulants.
Pharmacologically, crack and cocaine are the same, stimulants derived from the coca plant. Historically, powder cocaine was a drug for the rich, used leisurely indoors. But when California drug dealers started to process it with an alkaloid, commonly baking soda, it became a solid, known as a freebase, and was nicknamed “crack” for the popping sound it makes when smoked.
Crack democratized cocaine and pushed it outdoors to the street corner and alleyway. No longer did you need to chop powder with a razor blade on a mirror. Now, all you need is a lighter and pipe, or even a modified pop can or hollowed-out cigarette. The price plummeted and a drug of the rich became a drug for the poor.
Of course, none of this determines who will abuse it, as Prof. Moore points out, having worked many years with crack users. Fact and stereotype are far apart.
The attraction is deep and dangerous to an addicted mind.
“Most people don’t start smoking crack as the first fuel of the fire,” Dr. Krishnamurthy said. While society frets over the “fuel,” to medicine, “a fire’s a fire.”
In a survey of crack users in Toronto’s Parkdale area, conducted for the Canadian Harm Reduction Network, one user said, “I mean, for those 15 or 30 seconds that you’re actually getting off, there is nothing else. There is no right or wrong. There is no morality. There are no other thoughts in your head. It just blows everything away, so that if you are struggling with some sort of demon or some sort of issue in your life, it takes it away for a short period of time.”
Prof. Moore grew up in Etobicoke, is four years younger than Mr. Ford and ran in the same circles.
“I know that scene,” she said. “There’s a lot of hard drinking, a lot of drug use. That’s Etobicoke.”
It is from that perspective she rejects the simplistic solution of getting him into rehab to treat his addiction, which she called a “handy excuse for much more complicated situations.”
“I don’t buy it,” she said. “I think he’s come out of a culture where this kind of behaviour was completely acceptable, and he’s all of a sudden figuring out that that little world of privileged, white, middle-class Etobicoke is not foolproof and not quite as impenetrable as he thought it was.
“Rehab is not going to solve it because there was an arrogance that we were all brought up to hold on to about our own entitlement and our own invincibility, which to my mind — and I don’t know Rob Ford personally — is a huge part of this story.”
Source: national Post