True Love, Not Tough Love: How Mothers of Addicts Are Helping to End the Drug War

On Wednesday, we celebrated Valentine’s Day, an opportunity to celebrate love in all relationships and forms. For mothers, whose children have struggled with substance use disorders, it is a day to reflect on the pure nature of unconditional parental love. With this deeper reflection, mothers from the Moms United to End the War on Drugs international campaign are rejecting paternalistic drug policies that circumvent our maternal wisdom and replace it with cruel, anti-family values. The mission of Moms United is to end the violence, mass incarceration and overdose deaths that are the result of current discriminatory and prohibitionist drug policies.


On February 14, 2018, Moms United launched our “True Love Not Tough Love” campaign. Many of us have lost teens and adult children to drug-related death. We know that simplistic advice, by well-meaning but misinformed friends and criminal justice and healthcare professionals, to just let our loved ones “hit bottom” would often mean death. We have insight as moms that others don’t have, so we are speaking out to other mothers to warn them that their children are in danger too, and to use our innate moral authority to teach unconditional and positive regard. We encourage parents to reject the practice of “tough love” in raising our children, and instead offer steady but loving direction and discipline so that our youth can achieve their goals and live happy and healthy lives. We are reclaiming our basic mothers’ rights to nurture and protect our children.

The opioid crisis is a tragedy of epic proportion. In the United States, one person is dying every 10 minutes due to overdose. Many of these deaths could have been avoided. We must stop wasting time and resources by employing failed drug war tactics to address what is essentially a public health epidemic.

Moms suggest a better way to save lives and propose five policies to potentially solve the opioid overdose crisis. First, the government must provide adequate funding to address the epidemic. To this day, despite much talk and “commissions” to discuss the crisis, no money has been allocated. Second, we need to have a healthcare system of treatment on demand. Third, we promote and advise therapeutic services, not criminalization and mass incarceration. Fourth, medication-assisted treatment has been proven to be effective in treating addictive illness, so these services should be provided in the community as well as behind bars. And fifth, most importantly, community-based harm reduction services must be made widely available. These include syringe exchanges, naloxone (a safe drug that can quickly reverse an accidental opioid overdose) distribution, and safe consumption spaces. For five days in February, we will be promoting these proposals on social media and encourage others to post and share the messages.

It is beyond time to break away from punitive prohibitionist approaches that exacerbate the problem. “Tough love” paternalistic approaches don’t work, but nurturing and humanistic approaches can achieve success. Ironically, the words “tough” and “love” don’t resonate together and are a jolting and contradictory concept.

As a mother of two sons who have struggled for decades with addiction to heroin, but are now in long-term recovery, I’m deeply concerned that our government appears to be so unenlightened about a health emergency that is taking so many lives across the cultural and socio-economic spectrum. I am one of the lucky moms. My sons are survivors of a retributive criminal justice system. My older son is a survivor of accidental overdose. I deeply believe that constant, abiding love can lead to healing. So, on Valentine’s Day, please honor “true love” and help us to save precious lives.

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