This election season, several Republican presidential candidates have expressed support for individuals struggling with heroin addiction, widely perceived to be a problem in white communities. But for drug problems more closely associated with low-income communities of color, U.S. drug policy has been more often informed by punitive “lock ’em up” rhetoric rather than compassion or a public health approach.
Writing in the Guardian, The Sentencing Project’s Executive Director Marc Mauer discusses how racial perceptions of drug use have informed policy and argues that all people struggling with addiction deserve compassion, regardless of race.
At this week’s forum on substance abuse in New Hampshire, which was attended by several Republican candidates, the talk was all about treating drug abuse as a disease to be addressed with compassion. The subject matter was very timely, with the state having experienced a surge of heroin abuse in recent years, concentrated in its overwhelmingly white population.
Some presidential candidates, such as Jeb Bush and Carly Fiorina, described the struggles of family members with substance abuse, while others like Chris Christie and John Kasich, displayed pride in having expanded access to treatment in their home states. Along with similar sentiments among the Democratic candidates, these developments would seem to suggest an emerging consensus on drug policy.
Actually, the two parties have had a long history of bipartisanship on drug policy, though one which for many years could hardly be characterized as compassionate.
At the inception of the war on drugs in the 1980s, leaders of both parties endorsed harsh punishments and mandatory sentencing as their preferred approach to substance abuse, with seemingly little interest in supporting prevention and treatment. Three decades later, there is unity again, but now characterized by a broader vision of the problem. So how did this come about?
Read the full commentary in the Guardian.