Change is in the wind. Never in my life have I heard so much chatter about addiction and drug abuse resonating from the halls of lawmakers as I’ve heard this year. The tide is slowly changing.
It’s beginning to look as though addiction is not the political looser it once was. But the question that remains unanswered will determine the fate of Americans with addictions. Is this a turning point where we cautiously peek around the corner or are we at the tipping point where meaningful change can take place?
Perhaps the most encouraging news of the year came in July (2014) from the highest office in the land. In a post on the White House website, the head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, Drug Czar Michael Botticelli said that the government’s new drug control strategy “rejects the notion that we can arrest and incarcerate our way out of the nation’s drug problem. Instead, it builds on decades of research demonstrating that while law enforcement should always remain a vital piece to protecting public safety, addiction is a brain disorder — one that can be prevented and treated, and from which people recover.”
Botticelli, who is in recovery himself, is the catalyst behind a new and modern science-based national strategy emphasizing education and prevention over incarceration. Other key elements of his 2014 National Drug Control Strategy include training health care professionals to intervene early before addiction develops and expanding access to treatment. Botticelli’s plan represents a monumental shift in the thinking of high level lawmakers.
These are policies that I can get behind and so should you. The points outlined in Botticelli’s plan mirrors what I’ve been calling for over the last thirty years. The acceptance of addiction as a brain disorder by a government official in a position to affect changes to public policy is a huge win for Americans with addictions.
As excited as I am about Michael Botticelli’s new policies, I must continue to remind myself that we’ve won a battle, albeit a big one, in our quest to usher in a modern and realistic national drug policy.
Change never comes easily, especially when you’re dealing with a government with so many special interest groups knocking on lawmakers doors. I can assure you – with billions upon billions of dollars on the table – bitter battles are before us.
Drug abuse in America has been on the minds of its lawmakers for quite some time. The drug culture of the 60’s combined with heroin addicted serviceman returning from Vietnam caused quite a consternation in Washington.
It was believed at the time that drug abuse was the cause of moral decline in American society. The widely believed myth that addiction was a moral flaw resulting from weak character and a lack of willpower was the guiding principle in the development of drug policy. The crescendo came in 1971 when then President Richard Nixon declared a “War on Drugs” that included harsh mandatory penalties for drug offenses. A seemingly unrelated event that occurred at about the same time was that, due to a sluggish economy and budget cuts, many states began closing psychiatric hospitals without following through on promises to create and sustain comprehensive community treatment programs.
The results of these tandem pieces of legislation, individually and collectively, were nothing short of an abject failure. In my opinion, these twin acts did more to bankrupt our society than the drug culture of the 60s could have ever accomplished. The War on Drugs did absolutely nothing to abate drug abuse that continues to escalate and grow every year. More people abuse drugs today than ever before in our history.
While the ink was still drying on Nixon’s signature on the War on Drugs legislation, astute businessman saw an emerging market. They began opening ‘for-profit’ detention centers and prisons to accommodate the rising prison populations resulting from mandatory sentencing policies outlined in the War on Drugs legislation. This was the birth of what is referred to today as the Prison–industrial complex; a five plus billion dollar industry paid for by tax-payers with well over 100 centers across the country and typically mandated that 90 percent of their beds be filled at all times. In the early 70s there were forty-thousand people in jail for drug offenses; today there’s over half a million.
Combine the growing interest of lawmakers to privatize the prison system with the continued reduction of the number of psychiatric hospitals (mainly due to budget cuts) and you have the recipe for a manmade humanitarian disaster. According to USA Today there are 10 times more people with mental illness behind bars than in state-funded psychiatric beds, which are often the only ones accessible to indigent and uninsured patients. I love my country but have little, if any, regard for the politicians responsible for facilitating, condoning or perpetuating policy making the U.S. theonly modern country in the world where someone can be jailed repeatedly – for short and long terms – just for having a disease.
It’s unconscionable, immoral and dead wrong. The simple reality is that President Nixon’s well intentioned War on Drugs was a poor design built on injudicious myths with little attention paid to fact or science. This policy has destroyed far more American lives than it could have ever possibly saved – an abomination in every sense of the word.
The need for drug policy reform has long passed. It’s time for the law of the land to emerge from its ill-informed destructive past and get current with reality.
I don’t believe I’ve ever felt as optimistic about the possibility of meaningful reform as I do right now. I am thoroughly impressed by what I was able to glean from the 2014 National Drug Control Strategy proposal. There are aspects of it I don’t agree with, mainly the potential for over use of synthetic opioid maintenance programs; however the direction of this plan is sound and I believe Michael Botticelli is the right man for the job.
So are we at a turning point or the tipping point? Are we in a position of critical mass where meaningful reform can happen? The answer lies within you. Michael Botticelli is very accomplished but he can not win the silent assault on Americans with addictions by himself.
To effect change there are battles that must be fought against very worthy advisories with sweeping political influence and boatloads of money. You can expect to see companies such as Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the largest for-profit prison system in the country, march their army of lobbyists up Capital Hill to influence lawmakers to defeat any piece of legislation that might possibly have an adverse affect on their guaranteed 90% occupied rate.
Another mega group with less than humanitarian interests in their heart that we’re sure to see obstructing positive change in drug policy is Big Pharma. Americans, who represent less than 5% of the global population, consume 80% of all the opiate-based painkillers produced in the world. That’s one huge cash cow for Big Pharma. Any meaningful reform will surely cut deep into their profits. Their lobbyists will be passing out millions in campaign contributions to lawmakers like the money is a cold bottle of water in the middle of a record setting heat wave.
Make no mistake about it; these mega corporations will stop at absolutely nothing to protect their profits.
Our only defense – and it’s an effective one – is our collective voice. For those of us fortunate enough to have gone through rehab know we didn’t do it on our own. We relied on each other to produce a positive outcome. If we are to effect positive changes in drug policy, we need to band together one more time. All I ask is that you talk about your addictions and your journey to clean time and sobriety. Show the world that you are an upstanding and contributing member of society. Share your story across the social media sites. Tell it to anyone who will listen. Now is the time to be bold. I know what I’m asking won’t come ease to some. If you can’t do it for yourself, please do it for the person behind you who needs help but is being blocked by the many barriers to treatment that this policy will remove. This is our battle and this is our time to shine!
When situations like this arise I’m reminded of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s famous response when presented with a plan he was in favor of. The President told the presenting group: “I agree with you, I want to do it, now make me do it.” Politics is a strange culture
in that you have to force a politician to do what he already knows is the right thing to do. www.whitehouse.gov/ondcp/drugpolicyreform
John Giordano DHL, MAC is a counselor, President and Founder of the National Institute for Holistic Addiction Studies, Laser Therapy Spa and Wellness Center in Hallandale Beach and Chaplain of the North Miami Police Department. For the latest development in cutting-edge treatment. Check out his website: www.holisticaddictioninfo.com