From ‘war on drugs’ to ‘public health emergency’ — how drug addiction became a ‘disease’

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From ‘war on drugs’ to ‘public health emergency’ — how drug addiction became a ‘disease’

From ‘war on drugs’ to ‘public health emergency’ — how drug addiction became a ‘disease’

In the 70s:

National leaders used phrases like “war on drugs.”

People addicted to drugs were shunned and stigmatized; called “junkies” and “low-lives”.

Law enforcement agencies used strict measures for drug crackdowns.

Instead of rehab centers, people battling addictions were put in jails.

Present scenario:

National leaders use phrases like “public health emergency.”

People addicted to drugs are empathized with.

Role of law enforcement agencies is minimal; health care officials are responsible for containing the epidemic.

Emphasis is on maximizing drug treatment and recovery programs; incarceration is the last resort.

These are just a few examples of how the outlook toward the problem of drug addiction and people addicted to drugs has changed. Reason — addiction to drugs is now a problem rampant even among the white population.

Till the time only the African-Americans and Latino communities were affected by drugs and were losing their lives to overdoses, the government adopted a “war on drugs” approach. Now, when the problem has become widespread among the whites also, the attitude toward it has changed. It is no longer an “addiction” but a “disease”; with major legislations being introduced to rehabilitate and save lives.

Addiction is a problem with all population groups

Racial disparity in the perception adopted towards the menace of drugs had always been present, but subtle. The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 was a clear example of different penalties meted out to people who abused crack and those who abused cocaine. Essentially both, crack and cocaine, are similar at the molecular level; however, the former is used more by the financially weak and the African-American population while the latter is popularly used by the financially sound and the white populace. Despite the elemental similarity, harsher punishments were given to crack users compared to coke users.

The vigorousness with which crack users were targeted led to an unprecedented rise in the prison population, constituting mainly of African-Americans. This was supported by a 2014 study conducted by a criminal justice reform advocacy group based in Washington D.C. The study said that whites strongly associated African-Americans and Latinos with crime and criminality.

Recently, Massachusetts Governor, Charlie Baker signed S2371, also known as the criminal justice reform bill, into a law. It had been vetoed since years and it is only now that the importance of the provisions of the bill have been realized. The new law focuses on reform and rehabilitation for drug-related offenders rather than punishment.

African-Americans make up for about 8.8 percent of the population in Massachusetts. While the rate of opioid deaths among this population was about 15.4 percent per 100,000 in 2016, a 35.9 percent per 100,000 overdose death rate was recorded among the white population. These hard-hitting ratio of overdose deaths among the whites made the policymakers rethink their approach toward combatting the drug epidemic. “Now that white people are doing drug crimes, there’s a lot more energy to reform the criminal justice system,” said Calvin Feliciano, a reform activist.

While commenting on the recent legislation, Carol Rose, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, said that it represents “important progress.” However, at the same time she emphasized the need for more policies and laws to be set in place to avoid over-incarceration and racial inequalities in the justice system.

Treatment for drug addiction should be the way

Despite changing perceptions and opinions about addiction to opioids and other drugs, there is still a stigma associated with it. Recovery from addiction is possible. Therefore, one must not hesitate in seeking medical help upon experiencing the symptoms of drug or substance abuse.

If you or someone you know is battling an addiction to drugs, it is imperative to seek immediate medical support. At the Arizona Drug Addiction Helpline, we can help you access some of the best treatment for drug addiction in Arizona. Call us at our 24/7 drug addiction helpline number 866-576-4147 or chat online with our experts to know about the top addiction treatment centers in Arizona.

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