Last March, former President Obama spoke at the National Prescription Drug Abuse Heroin Summit in Atlanta saying, “For too long we’ve viewed drug addiction through the lens of criminal justice.”
He added, “The most important thing to do is reduce demand.
And the only way to do that is to provide treatment — to see it as a public health problem and not a criminal problem.”
Following this comment, he declared efforts directing $116 million — about .02 percent of the federal public health budget — at “treatment” for those struggling with opioid addiction.
This all made sense, of course, given that this summit was specifically created to discuss the horrific consequences our nation has reaped due to the under-regulated prescription drug industry.
But that was it. Since the Atlanta summit, there have been no more discussions or summits or funds.
Yes, Obama’s claim that reducing drug demand is the most significant action the federal government can take was inspiring. Since Nixon, the man who began the devastating “War On Drugs” in 1971, America’s policy on drug addiction has been focused on supply, not demand.
For decades, the DEA and local forces spent hundreds of billions gaining control and destroying illegal drug manufacturers and distributors, yet the supply seemed to grow and addiction rates soared.
Why? Well, aside from the surplus of opioid prescriptions that flooded the market, nearly tripling each year since 1991, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NSDUH), it’s due to lack of education.
It’s as simple as that.
Most people are addicted to something, whether it be caffeine, nicotine, dopamine or Netflix. And some people are addicted to drugs. We all know that.
Methamphetamine is one of those drugs.
While doctors sometimes prescribe different variants of the drug to children and adults battling Attention Deficient Disorder (ADD) or obesity, it can have devastating effects when abused.
NSDUH in a 2012 survey on drug use reported that approximately 1.2 million people were actively using methamphetamine in the U.S.
Since 2012, that number has grown at a rate of 440,000 people per month.
My aunt, who helped raise me, happened to be one of those people.
I remember the weight loss, the open scabs on her face, the bags under her eyes and the excuses.
But the thing I remember the most is how hard she tried to quit.
Every day, for over a year, she struggled to get the help she desperately needed.
There were no summits, no funds or conversations, just those red and blue flashing lights.
Since birth, I’ve been told that only criminals get the opportunity to ride in the back of those black and white cruisers.
I was told that criminals were bad people who did bad things and deserved to be punished.
Eventually, my aunt was labeled a criminal, a common attribute for someone dealing with drug addiction, yet she hurt no one.
People like her, “non-violent drug offenders” they call them, are folks who are sent to jail for either distributing or simply possessing some form of illegal substance.
Over 60 percent of people in prison, both at the local and federal level, were convicted of drug related crimes, according to the Bureau of Justice Statics.
That was my education. I watched my aunt spiral down into the black abyss of addiction and be swallowed whole by the job rejections and the purposefully inconvenient court proceedings.
But where was her education? Where could she learn?
Prison? But California and the federal government cut funding for drug addiction classes in prisons due to overpopulation.
Rehab? Well, rehab costs range anywhere from $12,000 to $60,000, so that’s not a viable option when you can’t get a job.
But if addiction isn’t a public health problem and instead a mental one, then she should have just known better, right?
Right. She should have just known better.
The lack of resources and education for those addicted to drugs is predicated on beliefs just like that — the idea that addiction is an individual criminal problem, not a public problem.
That is why it’s so frightening that President Trump is expected to announce Rep. Tom Marino, a Republican from Pennsylvania, as the next director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, which oversees both the international and domestic anti-drug efforts of executive branch agencies.
Marino began his career prosecuting drug offenders using this same belief, and he continues to support legislation that perpetuates not only the broken judicial cycle of conviction for non-violent drug offenders, but also the mentality that drug addiction is not a serious public health issue that impacts us all.
We need reform, education and grace, not Nixon era policy that further places restraints on those who made the unfortunate step down the road of addiction.
Croix is a junior English creative writing major.