The rhetoric making up the American landscape has changed dramatically since President Trump took office. At the end of last year, the news media was awash with stories about changing the narrative of drug addiction in this country, and finally moving towards a more progressive, and to be honest, logical way of looking at drug addiction. It appeared that for the first time in almost 40 years, we’d be moving away from the policy of mass incarceration of drug addicts, and we’d be moving towards a more understanding and rehabilitation based approach.
Bi-partisan bills were passed through Congress seeking to get more funding for education and rehabilitation programs for drug addicts, and coupled with the constant media exposure that opioid overdoses were getting, it seemed that the general public and our politicians in Washington were finally beginning to understand how to tackle the issue of drug addiction in this country.
Yet, as the New Year rolled in and a new administration took office, all of these things were thrown to the wayside. There was no longer talk of ending mass incarceration. There was no longer talk of getting drug addicts the much needed help they require, but instead, there was talk of taking health insurance away from 24 million of the most at-risk Americans, over the next few years. Drug addiction and the problem it poses to America was replaced by fear-mongering and xenophobic prattle, and with everyone’s attention turned elsewhere, it appears that we will not move forward in our fight towards ending the opioid epidemic, but will rather keep the status-quo and remain ignorant to the end.
For all of these reasons and so many more, it should come as no surprise that our current Attorney General of the United States, Jeff Sessions, harkened back to the glory days of the Republican Party for his vision of how we should combat “an uptick in violent crime” and drug addiction in this country. He believes that we need to revisit, as if we ever truly left, the ideas behind the “Just Say No” campaign because as he said in his own words, “I think we have too much of a tolerance for drug use ─ psychologically, politically, morally.”
Before even addressing this, I would just like to say that contrary to the narrative that is so popular in this country right now, the overall long-term trend of violent crime in this country is on the decline, even though there has been a bit of a resurgence over the past few years. This means that the America that we currently live in, while it doesn’t feel so, is actually safer than it was through most of the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s, and early 2000’s. So right off the bat, Session’s assertions are incorrect and based on an emotionally romanticized version of the past that many politicians want to get back, although never existed.
Beyond the fallacy of his argument about crime, his belief that we have been too soft on drug addicts is also not based in reality, nor is his notion that increasing policing and putting more people in jail will have a positive impact on drug addiction in this country. It is the same policy that we have explored since Richard Nixon declared a War on Drugs and it didn’t work then or in any of the years following it.
In fact, almost immediately after the War on Drugs was declared a Crack Epidemic swept the nation. We saw an increase in policing that disproportionately affected low-income minority neighborhoods, but yet, did little to reduce the actual spread of drug addiction. We spent billions and billions of dollars during this time period and yet saw no tangible short-term or long-term results, besides an explosion of the prison population that has arguably done more harm towards propagating drug addiction than anything else.
Drug addiction affects roughly 1.3% of the American population and that number hasn’t really changed since 1970. It has gone up a little bit here and there and down a little here and there, but none of the policing or policies enacted did anything to effect this. What we have seen in this time period is just a changing of what drug is being abused. We went from crack, to meth (in certain parts of the country), to now a widespread opioid problem that does not appear to be slowing down. The reason for this is because we have not found a solution to the problem, and so it just keeps reappearing with different names because as a country, we have not grasped what it is we are dealing with.
Why we allow people to make policy and direct the narrative of drug abuse in this country that are woefully ignorant to the problem at hand is beyond me, but we continue to allow this to happen to disastrous results. It is the equivalent of naming me head of NASA and then wondering why the rocket blew up before leaving the ground. I know nothing about space! So why do we allow people like Jeff Sessions, Nancy Reagan, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and Richard Nixon dictate how we attempt to help drug addicts in this country?
The reason is because we don’t really want to fix the problem— we do, yet we don’t. We don’t care about drug addicts, and most of the general population loathes what they represent. An addict and alcoholic represents all that is wrong with society, an ill that is ugly to look at, a manifestation of the collective sickness of a country, and while I don’t actually believe these things, that is what most truly think. They believe drug addicts are bad people and they do not believe addiction to be a disease, and so with that line of thinking thoroughly ingrained in consciousness, we set out to self-destruct any progress we make at every single turn. Maybe one day we’ll move past this nonsense and begin to embrace our addicted brethren and attempt to help them, but that day isn’t today, and the Trump White House is not the administration to do so.