There have been numerous recent political developments that both directly and indirectly affect those struggling with drug addiction. For one thing, the House of Representatives made a successful last-ditch effort to pass their new healthcare bill, which many experts say will ultimately lead to decreased addiction treatment access. For another, Attorney General Jeff Sessions made no secret of his plans to prosecute drug offenders to the full extent of the law, even for non-violent crimes, an approach many fear will bring back the policy that overcrowded prisons and fragmented many families for generations. With all of these new developments, it’s worth examining whether or not we’re taking a step backward in our approach to dealing with drug and alcohol addiction.
Of specific concern is the newly revitalized enforcement-first policy being spearheaded by the Justice Department. Law enforcement officials say that Sessions and former federal prosecutor and staunch anti-drug crusader Steven H. Cook are preparing a plan to prosecute more drug and gun cases and pursue mandatory minimum sentences. The two men are eager to bring back the national crime strategy of the 1980s and ’90s from the peak of the drug war, an approach that had fallen out of favor in recent years as minority communities grappled with the effects of mass incarceration. This can even include intervention in state-sanctioned marijuana use and target those in need of addiction treatment.
The impact of these intentions is yet to be determined; however, if it’s anything like its previous implementation, it will lead to more Americans in prison and less in addiction treatment, heightened criminal activity and more erosion of family and community life throughout the United States. Sessions is pointing to cities like Chicago, which has experienced a spike in homicides, as reasons for tighter enforcement—crime as a whole has been near historic lows in the United States. The Attorney General aims to send a clear and definitive message that “using drugs is bad and they will destroy your life”, a premise with which few are arguing.
There is little doubt that addiction is a destructive and devastating public health issue; however, it’s also a disease. We need to ask ourselves if returning to a culture of demonizing sick people is the best way to get our arms around the substance abuse epidemic in this country. It’s one thing to take maximum legal action against dealers and distributors; it’s quite another to reinforce a stigma that has created real everyday roadblock for people that need addiction treatment.