June 2018           "A Journal of Biblical Understanding"           Volume 14           

(Daniel 4:25)
" ... and seven times shall pass over thee, till thou know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will."


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The Terror of Cocaine—"In Dust We Trust"

Why do people use cocaine, in spite of the widespread knowledge of its dangers? What are the costs, both to the individual user and to our society? None of us is immune to the clutches of cocaine.

In our post 9/11 world, few people object to governments allocating billions of dollars to fight the war on terror overtly and covertly. The memory of the terrible human and financial cost of the events of that single day continues to burn in our minds.

On that tragic day, foreign terrorists killed slightly under 3,000 people in the United States. How would you react if terrorists had actually killed thousands more Americans that year— and every year since then?

What if the acts of those terrorists also cost the national economy $36 billion—not just one time, but every year? That would be approximately $170 billion from September 2001 to the present.

What action would it stir if America learned that terrorists were responsible for as many as 200,000 visitors to the emergency room each year? Wouldn't you think that there would be a literal revolution if Americans learned that foreign terrorists had been able to take over the minds of more than 2 million Americans between 20 and 34 years of age, forcing them to fulfill terrorists' agenda within the country's borders?

Finally, consider a terror greater than all of the above, that of terrorists finding a way to attack thousands upon thousands of babies in the womb, afflicting the unborn with a host of neurological problems, killing many and leaving many others with lifelong disabilities.

This is not a drill

This is not merely a mental exercise. This is not a drill. This is really happening—not at the hands of foreign terrorists, but strangely, at the hands of Americans themselves. Moreover, Americans are not alone. Cocaine addiction, cocaine-caused hospitalizations, deaths and health-care costs related to cocaine are comparable in Britain and the rest of the European Union, as well as in Canada and Australia.

Cocaine has a reputation for being the drug of the upper class, but in reality, users come from every social and economic group, as well as both sexes.

Another inaccurate stereotype is the idea that cocaine, like most other drugs, numbs the senses, impairing a user's reaction times and dulling his thoughts. To the contrary, it's a performance enhancer. It wards off feelings of fatigue and hunger, while it boosts energy and delivers a strong general sense of well-being.

Centuries ago, the indigenous Incan royalty were the privileged users of this white powder that comes from the coca plant grown in Peru, Bolivia and Colombia. In time, usage became more widespread among the general population for mystical, religious, social and medical purposes. Their Spanish conquerors learned that field workers produced much better, if they had coca leaves to chew on all day long.

From the early 1850s to the early 1900s, cocaine use spread throughout Europe and the United States. The French sold Vin Mariani, a cocaine-laced wine. Famous people, including Thomas A. Edison and Sarah Bernhardt, touted the feel-good properties of the white powder. Doctors used it in surgeries, and psychologists, led by Sigmund Freud (who eventually died a coke addict!), raved over its ability to cure depression.

Strange as it sounds today, everybody claimed that cocaine was free of any side effects! That ignorance did not last long, as many users began to evidence psychotic behavior, including hallucinations, delusions and suicidal tendencies.

Cutting into the reward pathway

Michael Quick, a professor of biological sciences, explains that the brain has a neurological pathway that delivers feelings of euphoria that come as a reward for accomplishment ("Expert: Cocaine Has Lasting Impacts," Daily Trojan, 2005, www.stopaddiction.com).

Cocaine taps into what the professor calls "the reward pathway" in the brain. It enables a person to bypass actually doing things to bring about good feelings. By analogy, think of being able to tap into the source of paychecks, without having to work for them. It's party time!

However, Professor Quick explains that neural pathways cross over each other and that drugs like cocaine can cause the pathways to misfire. For example, in addition to the reward pathway, cocaine affects the areas in the brain responsible for motor activity. Consequently, people on cocaine often find that they cannot sit still. Still another neural pathway crisscrossed by cocaine is the one responsible for blood pressure and heart rate. It's primarily this "crossed wire" that causes cocaine's most serious side effects—arterial breakdown and stroke.

But how can the "feel-good drug" cocaine cause depression? In addition to tapping into the reward pathway, cocaine forces the brain to keep that gateway open, nearly exhausting its capacity to deliver euphoric feelings. God designed the marvelous neurotransmitter dopamine to deliver "feel-good sensations" regularly. In the normal course of things, the brain never exhausts its supply of dopamine, so that it always has some when needed.

However, cocaine causes the brain to burn up nearly all of its dopamine. Consequently, it leaves a person without the capacity to feel good and indeed, feeling worse than he did before taking the drug.

Can't get enough

Herein lies the basis for cocaine addiction: Because the user has an all-consuming craving to renew the sense of feeling good, the only way to do that is to take another dose of the drug. The user needs more with every dose to recreate that coveted euphoric feeling.

Since cocaine consumes the brain's chemical resources instead of adding to them, there are only so many times that the user can get that pleasant feeling. The brain needs time, nourishment and rest to produce more dopamine.

The craving for cocaine is so overpowering that it consumes the addict's every thought. One 25-year-old woman tells that once she started using crack cocaine (a variety of the drug that users burn to smoke; the sound the burning material makes gives it its name, "crack"), the desire to have it obsessed her constantly.

"I spent all my money I had from working on crack. I also started to con my parents to say I needed more money… It was like a hurricane. I sold everything in my house to pay for it, except my bed. At 25, I didn't have a life. I was sitting in my room by myself. I was psychotic and I was hallucinating. I was transformed into a wild animal and would hobble around the streets" ("Crack Cocaine Nearly Killed Me," BBC News, June 24, 2002).

There are always lowlifes around to take advantage of people like this young woman. She explained that her dealer was completely clean; he did not use drugs. He merely used people.

To their peril, people sorely underestimate the addictiveness of the drug, believing that they will be able to control their use of it. However, no animal ever tested with cocaine has been able to tolerate its effects, and every test animal used the drug to excess (Gary Hopkins, M.D., Ph.D., "Killer Cocaine," www.vibrantlife.com).

Cheap curiosity, costly consequences

The 25-year-old woman mentioned above started using cocaine on a whim. She drank alcohol heavily as a teenager, dabbling in other drugs.

Another user explained that she took cocaine out of curiosity, hanging with the wrong crowds. She lost all her friends who did not use drugs. Then she lost her job and her university expelled her. She ruined all of her family relationships. Nothing mattered more than getting her next "hit."

She writes, "Cocaine makes you mean, makes you say horrible things to people you love, makes you lie, makes you cheat, makes you steal and turns the person who is a non-criminal into a criminal" (Susan Wood, "From Cocaine to Christ," www.notalone.org).

One of the greatest horrors is what the drug does to the unborn. Many women cannot stop using cocaine even during pregnancy. Their children can be born addicted to cocaine, in need of expensive hospital care. These babies instantly begin screaming inconsolably when they first wake from sleep, their tiny nervous systems hypersensitive to sight and sound. Both literally cause extreme pain sensations to the infant.

Cocaine babies are much more susceptible to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome—even strokes. Alarmingly, surveys indicate that in some areas the number of pregnant women using cocaine is over 20 percent. The lifelong physical, emotional and financial cost is devastating.

A people of hollow character

With all of the information available today about the devastating effects of cocaine, why do people even consider using it? Some of what you read above explains why. It is incredibly shallow to start using something so profoundly dangerous, so insidiously evil, merely because friends are doing it.

It's just as shocking to think that anyone would pursue cocaine's pathway merely because he or she wanted to feel good. Many people say their drug use began as part of getting ready to go to a party. In other words, they made this giant leap of irresponsibility for no greater reason than looking for a Saturday night's entertainment.

God gave the apostle Paul a piercing insight into the type of individual character we would encounter at the end of the age:

"The Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared…" (1 Timothy 4:1-2).

While he is speaking principally of doctrine, the prophecy also encompasses individual character.

Remaining in "the faith" involves more than following prescribed religious ceremonies; it involves being sound-minded, exercising good judgment in the way that you live (2 Timothy 1:7). The cocaine addict gives in to a spirit of seduction, believing the lie that using the drug is harmless. His or her character values, regardless of how honorable they once were, can quickly disintegrate into abject criminal behavior. They become incapable of healthy family or friend relationships and no one can depend on them for work.

Are people in today's world so shallow that we place self-gratification even above caring for the most innocent of children, the unborn? Are we so lazy that we think we have to grab good feelings from chemicals, instead of generating them by actually accomplishing something?

Are we becoming devoid of the ability to put the interests of others before ours? In a word, such character is selfishness—a quality that we learn from 2 Timothy 3:2 will be prevalent at the end of the age of humankind.

Is our need to feel good so important to us that we would impose a monumental financial burden on others to pay for our indulgences?

The American government is proposing a $12.7 billion budget in 2007 for national drug control, including education and community action, intervening and healing drug users, as well as disrupting the market. None of that would be necessary if people exercised self-control, and if they had meaning and hope in their lives, instead of the meaninglessness and hopelessness so pervasive today.

There is a terrorist connection

I began this article by drawing a comparison between the cost of the war on international terrorism and the cost of cocaine abuse. There is actually a direct connection. The American government, the European Union and other governments facing the terrorist threat recognize that drug abuse plays into the terrorists' hands. It causes chaos in the nation they seek to overthrow.

Further, terrorists raise money to fund their operations by tapping into the international drug trade. The entire cost of the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States could be met by less than one hour's worth of revenue from the illicit cocaine market in the United States, says Mark A.R. Kleiman in "Illicit Drugs and the Terrorist Threat: Casual Links and Implications for Domestic Drug Control Policy" (2004, The Library of Congress).

We are actually contributing to our own destruction in many ways, if we fall prey to the temptations of cocaine addiction. If you or someone you know has a problem with cocaine and wants help, there are many resources available, such as Cocaine Anonymous. Patterned after the 12-step program of Alcoholics Anonymous (although not connected with an organization), CA is highly successful in helping people regain their lives. They are available on the Web at www.ca.org.

"In dust we trust"

Curiously, one of the most common delivery methods people use to snort cocaine is paper currency, which the user rolls tightly into a straw. On the American currency are the words, "In God We Trust." Yet everything about this action is a contemptuous, capricious spurning of those powerful, albeit humble words.

God calls on all who read this article to repent. Adults need to repent of their selfishness, exercising whatever effort is necessary to put the needs of others before their own. This simple principle is easy to say, but it is extremely difficult to practice in all areas of life.

Apart from a cocaine addiction, this rudimentary selfishness is part of the inner nature of every person. Coincidentally, the pathway that will help the addict to break free from his chemical prison is identical to the pathway to salvation that every person must follow.

People who think in terms of others will possess a strong motivation to contribute to their community, their workplace and their families. They will be unwilling to live off the generosity of others. They will give rather than take.

The second overall element of godly repentance is taking full responsibility for one's actions. While other people undoubtedly were involved in causing someone to become an addict, no one can repent for anyone else's wrong-doings. We can repent only for our own sins. Moreover, pointing out how someone else is to blame will never bring about a change in you.

Our society urgently needs to embrace these principles and to return to teaching them to our young children. Plainly, one of the reasons our young adults are plagued with selfishness and susceptible to the ravages of drug addiction is that they are part of a coddled generation. I do not mean to imply that all addicts grew up in a home that failed to teach them to exercise self-control or to take responsibility for their actions. Nonetheless, the fact is that our society neither teaches these values nor champions those who exemplify them.

Parents who wisely administer moderate yet meaningful discipline when their children act selfishly and irresponsibly are, in fact, doing them a great favor. Doing so can help their children to avoid the infinitely more painful consequences that life administers to adults who choose lives of self-indulgence and self-gratification.

The consequences of cocaine addiction are as serious as any crisis confronting us in modern times, including terrorism. Nonetheless, the way out of this abysmal situation is not super-sized government budgets. The way out is individual repentance and embracing godly character on a person-by-person basis. Until that happens, the evil of cocaine will continue to terrorize us all. WNP


(Reprinted with permission of the United Church of God, an International Association. This article is part of a newsletter titled “World News and Prophesy?” and is not to be sold. It is a free educational service in the public interest. Published by United Church of God, an International Association, P.O. Box 541027, Cincinnati, OH 45254-1027. (c)2001 United Church of God. Visit the United Church of God on the Internet at www.ucg.org.)

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