Parents: End the War on Drugs -- for Your Kids


As a person in long-term recovery and a drug treatment professional, I know a thing or two about drugs, addiction and the drug war. As a mother and a grandmother, I know more than I care to about how all of those things affect families - including my own. Addiction is a particularly painful health issue for any family to struggle with. Like most other chronic health conditions, like cancer and diabetes, it can be treated and managed. But unlike other chronic health conditions, our government is at war with it.

The sad truth is that the war on drugs is a war on people, and they can be people you love.

Twenty five years ago I was lucky enough to find sustained recovery after struggling with my own addiction. Now I'm a grandmother of seven and am watching my youngest son struggle with his own addiction. I am hopeful that he will find recovery as I have. Until then, he struggles against decades of stigma and harmful policies. We aren't just battling addiction; we're battling the barbaric policies that continue to criminalize this medical disorder that I share with my son - and tens of thousands of other Californians. In tight economic times, it's getting harder and harder to find a place where my son can access drug treatment.

Why is it so hard to find treatment, when - somehow - there always seems to be room in jail? Why, when our state has to cut spending, it cuts drug treatment but not incarceration spending? (Drug treatment costs less than $5,000 per person; a year in prison costs almost $50,000 per person.)

Our government's response to drug addiction has moved in the wrong direction. A century ago addiction once was something handled by one's private doctor and family. By the 1980s, somehow we had decided that people who struggled with drugs, including my younger self and my son, were criminals?

Unfortunately, our drug policies are still stuck in the stone ages of the drug war-crazy 1980s. They have the veneer of compassion, but, in the end, even when you've done no harm to any one else nor posed any significant risk (like by driving under the influence), the criminal justice system will incarcerate you because of your health problem.

There is no other health condition that is criminalized this way. And it remains criminalized even as the American (and global) medical community have reached consensus that drug use and addiction are health issues.

For parents, this rejection of the medical approach for the criminal approach has become the stuff nightmares are made of. Our children were denied real prevention; instead they were force-fed "Just Say No" slogans and scare tactics that the government's own research found ineffective and counter-productive. Our children were kicked out of school under zero-tolerance policies that pushed the most vulnerable kids out of school and onto the streets rather than provide the help they needed. Our children had little or no access to drug treatment - but were dragged into the criminal justice system at rapidly increasingly rates. Our children died of preventable overdoses, because friends failed to call 911 for fear of arrest.

So-called experts infected our families with this zero-tolerance approach, teaching us to show our love by rejecting our children. We were told we would save our children's lives if we turned them in to the police. But calling the police only made matters worse. Drug treatment is not available for the vast majority of people in jails and prisons - but drugs are. And it's far easier to leave behind a drug addiction than it is a criminal record.

So what's a mother to do?

I say it's time for mothers (and fathers) to say enough is enough. We are smarter, more educated than we used to be. We see what works and what doesn't - and the war on drugs just doesn't work.

As a treatment professional, a recovering person, a mother of a former inmate and parolee, and a grandmother of seven, I say the time to end this failure of a drug war is NOW.

Join me and others' moms (and loved ones) to call for an end to this madness. Work with us to get our loved ones the support they need and the policies that would support - not demonize - them. At a rally in Los Angeles this week, Moms United to End the War on Drugs will demand an end to this war on our families. Join us!

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