War on drugs

Something that has been ignored for too long in the “war on drugs” is why people use drugs. The U.S. has invested massive efforts to punish people for using drugs since the “war” first began in the 70s. But nowhere near enough has been invested in helping people who use drugs. The result is way too many people in jail and much too little understanding of why they are there.

Fortunately, there are some local efforts to reverse this trend.

If you talk to Toni Ward, whom we profiled in our weekly People feature earlier this month, she can tell you how she is trying to provide community supports for people who have never known support before. There are many people out there who want to stop using drugs, but they lack the positive influences in their lives that can keep them accountable when they’re doing well and help them back up when they fail. Ward’s group, FIGHT, is trying to provide those badly needed positive influences.

If you talk to the Boyle County Health Department, or members of the Boyle County Agency for Substance Abuse Policy, or many local elected officials, they can tell you about ongoing discussions about bringing a syringe exchange program to Boyle County.

Like FIGHT, supporters of a syringe exchange hope to provide positive support to drug users. The program could reduce public health risks and costs from dirty syringes and give users a non-judgmental pathway to rehabilitation.

If you talk to Boyle County officials, they can tell you about their plans for a post-incarceration rehabilitation program for prisoners with drug issues that finish serving their time. The program, which would operate out of the old Red Cross building in Danville, would allow rehabilitation efforts that began in jail to continue once prisoners are released. It would help them be more likely to find stability and employment on the outside, and therefore less likely to return to drugs and then prison.

What all these different efforts boil down to is recognizing that drug users aren’t some “other” class of morally bankrupt people who deserve punishment, as many have too often thought of them. Drug users are just like the rest of us but they’re in need of help.

Americans have for many years said they want safer, happier, drug-free communities. But they’ve also believed that dream is achievable by locking up or running out of town all the people involved with drugs. That plan is expensive, unobtainable and ignores reality.

You can’t heal your community by excommunicating chunks of it anymore than you can cure a broken leg by cutting it off.

With every drug user that gets punished but finds no rehabilitation, we are adding one person to the number of people who are dependent on society and removing one person from the number of people who are able to contribute.

Imagine if over the past four decades, the money and efforts we spent on police and prisons for the war on drugs instead went to better education for kids, early interventions for young drug users, public health programs for adult users and rehabilitation programs — such as the nearby Isaiah House in Willisburg.

Imagine if we had been asking “why do people use drugs?” instead of stating that “people who use drugs are bad.”

Imagine what our community would look like if we had years and years’ worth of former drugs addicts now contributing and helping improve their neighborhoods — if, instead of the depressing attrition of punishment, we had the steady accrual of recovery.

There are many who have begun to work toward this hopeful, alternate future. If enough join the cause and support their efforts, we are hopeful it will not take another four decades to undo the damage done.

The Advocate-Messenger, Danville

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