For the story, I’ll call him Billie.

Little Billie was one of those bright, hyper kids with an I.Q. approaching genius. He dazzled adults with his sharp wit, toothy smile and exuberant charm. He managed straight A’s without effort. Like many kids of the 1960’s, Billie was the product of divorced parents. Mother Dorothy remarried when he was three, and he grew to love his new stepfather. When he was ten, that stepfather suddenly disappeared never to return again.

The year was 1970, the age of Aquarius, Viet Nam, hippies, rebellion against the establishment and a new culture that would change the complexion of America in future generations: Drugs.

Now liberated, Dorothy thought marijuana was no worse than having a cocktail. Billie watched as Mama’s behavior changed. Pot seemed to make her mellow, and more sociable. A new circle of friends visited. She made no secret of her lure to cannabis, openly toking up with her guests. She kept a hearty supply around. She even offered a toke to little Billie, saying, “Here, I don’t want you doing this behind my back.”

Billie found her stash one day and brought a handful to school where he promptly lined his pockets with enough cash for a month of lunch money. Billie was now the center of attention, a popular kid. His world changed overnight. Each day, he would bring more to sell, and to smoke it. He became a genius at playing hooky.

Changes in his behavior were remarkable. Exuberant charm turned into paranoia. Those straight A’s plunged to D’s and F’s. He was cunning now, deceptive and detached, easily agitated by authority figures, extremely nervous. By the time he reached his teens, Billie was a full-fledged addict, stealing, buying and selling drugs. Unable to handle the turmoil now as a single mom, Dorothy sent him to live with his natural father, but that stopped nothing. He thieved, he lied and he rebelled, impervious to discipline.

His new home didn’t last very long before he ran away, the first time. The foundation was poured and then it cracked. His future was cast in stone.

Though he found employment from time to time as a short-order cook, Billie rarely kept a job for long. By the age of nineteen, he had been arrested for several minor offenses, but because his father was a cop, he managed to keep his record clean. Now a slave to any drug he could afford, he entered hospitals and rehab programs to pacify his father, but he never intended to clean up. Drugs had become the dominant factor in his life, his God, his obsession. He saw love from family as a weakness, a tool when he needed temporary shelter, a burger, some new duds perhaps, and a couple bucks.

Then he discovered America’s social systems. All Billie had to do was demonstrate a certifiable handicap and he would be eligible for monthly disability payments until he was rehabilitated. Billie was truly a psychological disaster, barely able to care for himself all because of drugs. But the precious I.Q. was still intact and Billie knew all the right cliches and the buzz words. He certainly didn’t want to work. The government obliged. Billie knew how to feign a handicap. The medical profession was right there to help him dig into the Medicaid grab bag.

One doctor called him manic depressive. Another said he was agoraphobic. Some simply referred to him as psychologically disabled due to a nervous condition. Then… Bi-polar? Name it, he managed every diagnosis known to man. Thus, he was deemed eligible for monthly SSI payments. If he could hold a job for six months, the payments would cease. He made sure that didn’t happen.

Billie mysteriously disappeared to netherland somewhere and the SSI checks that were sent to his father’s house were sent back marked, “Moved. No Forwarding Address”.

Billie had married a multi-tattooed, topless dancer and went off to the back country of the Hawaiian Islands where they could grow their own pot and use other drugs to their hearts content in isolation. Three years later, Social Security caught up with Billie saying they were holding all those monthly the checks for him and promptly turned over fifteen thousand dollars. Not only that, Billie was happily reinstated on the public teat once again. The checks kept coming.

The couple bore two children, a boy and a girl, though they had no suitable place to call home nor any earned income with which to raise them. Children had value. That meant extra dough each month from Uncle Sam. Billie taught his wife the welfare ropes, how to scam social services, sell food stamps, rake the state and county for free money and continue drawing the disability income, now enhanced by the presence of the children. That included…Medicaid. Free health insurance. Free doctors. Free…(you guessed it)…drugs!

Thank you, taxpayer.

Billie discovered that accidents and physical pain translated into doctor’s visits and hospital emergency rooms. Ergo, prescription medicine. Over the years, Billie would lose all his teeth to extractions, each worth more refills of pain medicine. More than half the pills prescribed to him were sold on the streets.

Fast forward. Billie is forty-eight years old today living in a far-away place, divorced and sharing quarters with another woman on welfare to double the income. His kids were raised by grandparents from the time they were ten and eleven. He had spent some of his time at expressway ramps, holding cardboard signs.

Though he’s clean from the hard stuff and using prescription medicine only, (which, alas, he now needs) he is still surviving on the public teat. He hasn’t worked at a job in over ten years. In fact, years of drug abuse finally rendered him, as he declared years before: Disabled. Fried brains will do that to anyone. His toothy smile is gone, his mind dimwitted.

The eight hundred of your tax dollars that he collected every month not only helped him to remain unemployed, but hooked to his habits. To date, Billie has gleaned nearly $500,000 in cash payments plus many thousands more in medicaid benefits. In truth, Uncle Sam didn’t help someone to become productive, it enabled an addict. Taxpayers and politicians continue to feed into the handout scam thinking it’s worthwhile when, in fact, they are helping millions to remain dependent, rather than independent.

No doubt, we can multiply Billie’s story by ten or fifteen million. The costs are incalculable, not only in money, but in the waste of human potential.

It is a sad life, to be sure. This tragedy probably would never have occurred if it hadn’t been for an ignorant young mother who was too open with her drug of choice. She cannot turn back the clock, and neither can I. But that doesn’t abate the anger and the pain.

This is a true story, though the name has been changed. Billie’s path not only stunted his own life, it impacted many others around him who tried to care. I know quite a lot about the plight of that bright, toothy little boy called Billie.