I watched Lisa Ling’s program on CNN Saturday night dealing with the LDS Drug problem. (A short preview is available here.) On the one hand, it was unremarkable. Drug users (in any community) say that they want to stop doing drugs, but are very flaky and keep doing them. LDS users are no different. On the other hand, Lisa highlighted the unique aspects of the LDS drug problem.
The Word of Wisdom was a key aspect of the program. Yes, Mormons don’t drink and don’t smoke. We believe in clean living. But we do go to the doctor and are prescribed all kinds of legal drugs, so Ling referred to that as a gray area. Utah has more deaths from prescription drug overdoses than from car accidents, and Utah has the highest death rate from prescription drugs in America. Lisa said it was very hard to get Mormons to talk on camera about the problem, and the secrecy is part of the problem with addiction. She highlighted that Mormons try to be perfect, so much so that we don’t like to air our dirty laundry to the neighbors for fear of being judged. That just seems to feed the addiction problem.
As she was talking about this perfection problem, she was careful to say that Church leaders are not the source of the drug problem. However, there is a culture of perfection that seems to indirectly lead some to addiction. There seems to be a strong desire to be perfect, to look good at all times, to have it all together. When one doesn’t have it all together, then anxiety sets in. Pills for pain or anxiety lessen the anxiety, and certain people escape this anxiety through prescription drugs because they are prescribed by doctors, so therefore they are still obeying the Word of Wisdom. The drugs make you less anxious, and pretty soon, you feel you need these drugs every day just to function. One woman, a grandmother, took pills to make her feel less anxious. She finally passed out in front of some guests and spent several months in drug rehab (at $30,000 per month!) The problem takes place in both upscale neighborhoods of Salt Lake City, as well as rural enclaves in Manti in Sanpete County.
I guess the most shocking thing in the documentary was the point where Lisa Ling joined an undercover cop and they were looking for illegal drug transactions just 3 blocks from the Salt Lake Temple. One drug addict has a prescription for Ritalin due to her ADHD. Rather than take them herself, she takes her 90 pills and sells them for $10 per pill to others, making a hefty profit. Then she turns around and buys harder drugs like heroin or meth.
Ling filmed an LDS Addiction Recovery program meeting, modeled after the 12-step program for Alcoholics Anonymous. She also interviewed an LDS Bishop about the problem (the LDS Church did not want to provide an official spokesman for the documentary.) We just don’t hear much about drug abuse from church leaders in General Conference. Should we hear about it more? I am reminded that John Dehlin has said that the porn problem in the LDS Church is because Church leaders harp on it so much, making the problem worse; yet they don’t talk about the prescription drug abuse problem. Does it really matter what church leaders harp on? Because Utah seems to lead the U.S. in a problem they don’t talk about (prescription drugs), but also leads in porn use that they harp on constantly. Is the Church damned if you do, damned if you don’t? What should be done to limit these two problems in particular? The people who were willing to speak on camera did so precisely because they said the problem was hidden, and they wanted to take away the stigma. What are your thoughts?