Matthew Wolmutt knows a thing or two about the war on drugs and he doesn't like the way it's being fought.
For nine years, Wolmutt's life revolved around drugs and alcohol. He first tried liquor when he was 11. At 12, he started using marijuana. At 16, came cocaine and methamphetamine.
"At most, there were 10 days I was clean," said Wolmutt, 23, a Brainerd area native. "The rest of the time I was high. Every aspect of my life revolved around getting speed, meth, whatever you want to call it."
Wolmutt used meth for about four years, until he was 20. He said his friends stopped talking to him and he became paranoid. Living in an apartment with thin walls, he thought his upstairs neighbor was an FBI agent. He covered his windows with aluminum foil and went under the bed to do a "bump of crank" so people couldn't see him or his meth.
He remembers picking his eyebrows out because he thought they had bugs in them.
After being in and out of treatment programs and jail on a DUI charge, Wolmutt realized he had to get clean. Three years ago was the last time he touched a mood-altering chemical. Now, clean and sober, Wolmutt is attending Augsburg College in Minneapolis and working toward a degree in psychology.
His personal experience with drugs and watching how authorities have tried to fight them has led Wolmutt to the realization that the so-called war on drugs isn't working. He said a problem has been the demonization of drugs and drug users.
"That tactic does not work," said Wolmutt. "Kids can see that."
He noted how Prohibition didn't work for curbing alcohol. He said there needs to be policy changes in labeling addicts as criminal and changes in medical health issues for addicts. He said drug addicts should be treated as if they have a disease rather than as if they are criminals.
Wolmutt would like to see authorities institute "harm reduction" when speaking to kids about drugs.
"I would tell them it's their choice. I can't stop them," said Wolmutt. "I would say, 'If you use drugs, there are drugs that are not as strong as others, such as marijuana or hallucinogens.' I would try to incorporate a program for people who are trying to come clean to see how dirty, how gross drug addicts are. If kids see that, it might get to them.
"We can try to educate them and do it in a way they'll actually hear us. Right now, they cannot connect or relate with the people who come and talk to them."
Wolmutt also would like to see changes in policy on drug treatment. He said drug addiction is a disease and needs specific treatment, but currently little is available to addicts. He said at Augsburg College there's a program called "Step Up" that offers assistance, such as special housing for students who are chemically dependent. He said his goal is to have such programs instituted at all colleges.
Even with all his work, every day for Wolmutt is a struggle to stay clean. He said he is still powerless over drugs and alcohol and he still thinks about drugs often.
"Put a line of crank in front of me and in 10 minutes I will be doing it. I have no control," said Wolmutt. "I'm sober today and I hope I am tomorrow, but who knows?"
He said a combination of cognitive thinking and following his 12-Step program has kept him on a clean path. He said it's important for those attempting to recover from an addiction to think about everything they are doing to not repeat the thought patterns that led them to drug and alcohol abuse.
"Everything you do is about staying in recovery," said Wolmutt. "Put yourself in a place where you won't use."
Wolmutt said he is on the same side of people trying to stop the meth epidemic, but that from his experience and understanding, there needs to be a drastic change in the approach being used.
"If we cannot keep drugs out of maximum security prisons, how in the world are we going to keep drugs off Main Street America?" asked Wolmutt, citing a quote he likes. "Meth is a bad drug and it's going to ruin people and it's sad, really sad. Like state laws that cover other disabilities, ( the disability needs of ) drug addiction must be met. We can keep these kids clean, going through colleges and they would graduate and contribute to society.
It's kind of a dream I have."
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