After David Sheff’s 2008 non-fiction book, Beautiful Boy: a father’s journey through his son’s addiction, I thought more people might pick their heads up and notice the challenges of our sons and the drug addiction crisis. And when my son’s high school assigned the book back in 2019, approximately a year after the movie was released, I thought, this school gets it.
My son and I read the book, discussed it on a few occasions, and watched the movie. He found himself somewhat frustrated with the repetitive nature of the narrative. To which I said, “If you think the ebb and flow of a repetitive narrative is annoying, try being the child and parent living the actual cycle of drug addiction. Their ebbs and flows are painful.”
My son attends a Catholic school not far from San Francisco, a city the actual son of David Sheff frequented in order to get his drug fix and engage in activities that allowed him to fund his addiction.
In San Francisco, boys and men account for 83% of drug overdose deaths according to a report by the Office of the Chief Medical Officer in 2021. Nationally, our nation’s sons accounted for 69% of opioid deaths in 2018. Those numbers may soon be exceeding 70% according to recent reports. The CDC released provisional drug-overdose-death data earlier this year, reporting 100,000 drug-overdose deaths in the U.S., an all-time high. 70% of those deaths are reportedly males ages 25 to 50 according to a PBS News Hour report.
Despite the current state of boys and men in the U.S., policy makers have abandoned the American male. For decades, local and national policy makers have ignored and continue to ignore the outcomes of boys and men, as policy makers are entrenched in ideological narratives that promote political outcomes instead of ensuring equal protections. As one staff member of a California politician asked me, “How does a California politician even begin talking about boys and men and have a political future?” This comment was made after a 45-minute presentation on the status of boys and men in California report. Data revealed boys and men are behind in more categories than girls and women when it comes to life expectancy, education, diseases of despair, equal protections, and other areas necessary for a healthy life so boys and men can contribute to society according to their full potential.
Although some politicians speak on occasion about drug addiction and drug deaths, few if any are truly willing to engage in policies that target male victims in helpful ways. Conversely, government agencies are much harder on male drug dealers than they are female drug dealers. In a recent conversation with an F.B.I. agent who wished to speak on the condition of anonymity, the agent acknowledged:
“Prosecutors handle female drug dealers differently than male drug dealers, often letting female offenders go or recommending lighter sentences while prosecuting male offenders much more forcefully, even when the crimes and surveillance showed equal culpability by males and females.”
The agent further stated that many of the girlfriends and wives who were equally guilty were treated less harshly because they had children in the home who needed their mothers, despite the data that shows children without fathers are more likely to turn to drugs and crime. And with 39 of 50 states reporting births to unmarried parents ranging from 35% to 55.8% of all births, drug
addiction and other social ills will only increase.
While prosecutors and politicians make these kinds of resolutions with relative ease, the real fallout is on the children. These decisions raise serious questions regarding the ways our culture determines value and equal protections for its people. Contemporary political narratives remain predicated on a lesser compassion for boys and men, who disproportionately suffer when it comes to equal treatment. As a country, the US is much harder on our nation’s sons and seem more inclined to punish than direct. School suspensions, juvenile arrests, incarceration, and drug, suicide, and homicide deaths are symptoms of a much larger disease, the absence of the American boy and man in political conversations and policy actions. Global Initiative for Boys and Men state reports on the status of boys and men in California, Colorado, and Missouri reveal the school to prison pipeline is a national trend. The reports expose our nation’s challenge to properly accept and direct the energy of boys, so they become impactful men and fathers. Some politicians are noticing, but few are as bold and determined as Representative Mary Dye of Washington and her colleagues. Representatives Mary Dye, Gina Mosbrucker, Jenny Graham, and Tom Dent recently sponsored House Bill 1917: Establishing a Washington State Men’s Commission. The impetus for this decision has much to do with the current status of boys and men in Washington and the need to ensure equal protections are met. There is a Washington State Women’s Commission but no men’s commission.
These types of decisions will more than likely fall on strong, female legislators and mothers because they seem more willing to take on the challenge. Unlike Representative Tom Dent, many male politicians have largely shied away from the subject for fear of voter backlash. Some contemporary political figures with name recognition, however, are speaking openly. Andrew Yang has spoken about boys and men in a few of his recent podcasts and in a recent article in the Washington Post. Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri spoke about the need to address the plight of America masculinity at a November 2021 conference.
Although state and federal policy makers are rightly looking to protect our daughters, they wrongly turn a blind eye to the suffering of our sons.
It will take grandmothers, mothers, sisters, girlfriends and so many more women to demand more for the boys and men they love. It will take fathers, like David Sheff, and so many others to walk hand-in-hand with women and demand change. It will take compassionate school leaders and teachers to understand that a nation of uneducated boys is a national problem that leads to increased incarcerations and so many other social ills that impact all of us.
Yes, the drug problem is getting much worse. But the drugs are the symptom of a culture that needs to embrace masculine energy and direct it in healthy ways. The Global Initiative for Boys & Men has been educating policy makers and others on the status of our nation’s sons and encouraging them to use the data to further equal protections and support boys and men through
research, policy, and advocacy.
Until our leaders openly tell a nation of sons it cares, and does so through aggressive policy actions, we will continue to see the social ills of drug addiction and drug deaths in the streets of large cities, suburbs, and the backwater towns of the American Midwest.