A NEW PATH wrote -
Our children are at the forefront of the war on drugs. Approximately 2.3 million people, one in one hundred adults, are incarcerated in the United States. At a federal level prisoners incarcerated on a drug charge comprise half of the prison population, and the number of drug offenders in state prisons has increased 13-fold since 1980. The increasing incarceration numbers are a direct response to our failed drug policies.
It is estimated that one in four families struggles with a loved one’s addiction to drugs, so in addition to coping with the painful process of addictive illness more and more families are also experiencing the devastation of having a loved one behind bars. In many neighborhoods of color or poverty, it has become the norm to have a parent locked away in prison for drug use or drug-related behavior. The consequences of a drug conviction may include permanent loss of education, housing and employment opportunities.
Founding members of A New PATH (Parents for Addiction Treatment & Healing), are parents of individuals whose lives have been devastated by addiction and subsequent involvement in the criminal justice system. By sharing our experience, we seek to reduce the stigma, correct misconceptions, and advocate for therapeutic rather that punitive drug policies. We believe that the mistreatment and mismanagement of addicted individuals is caused by ignorance and misunderstanding of the problem itself. Because addiction is not yet fully understood as a social, psychological, and public health problem, it has been allowed to be stigmatized and criminalized.
It is generally accepted that drug addiction is our number one public health problem, yet despite decades of research that shows that addiction treatment is successful at reducing drug use and arrests, we continue to employ “tough on crime” tactics, rather than providing treatment programs. We allow addiction to be handled by a criminal justice system that is totally incapable of understanding the intricacies of the disease, and is highly motivated to incarcerate its way out of the problem.
After over four decades of the drug war, drugs are now cheaper, stronger and more easily obtained than ever before, while our prisons are filled with our sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters. Classifying someone who smokes cannabis as a criminal, or making a person addicted to drugs into a villain who should be punished, not only exacerbates the problem, but it also promoted fear-based stigma and discrimination that can lead to life-long social exclusion.
Moms United to End the War on Drugs (a project of A New PATH) is a national campaign of organizations and individuals in a massive collaborative effort to change current punitive policies of arrest and imprisonment to health-oriented and therapeutic strategies. Mothers were instrumental in ending alcohol prohibition in the United States in the 30’s, and mothers are again taking a leading position to end the violence, mass incarceration and overdose deaths that are a result of current punitive and discriminatory drug policies. We are urgently calling for health-oriented strategies and widespread drug policy reform in order to stop the irresponsible expenditure of dollars and resources, and the devastating loss of lives and liberty.
105 People are dying in the United States every day due to an accidental overdose. We must adopt policies that reduce the harms associated with drug use, such as clean needle exchanges, 911 Good Samaritan laws and greater access to naloxone, which can reverse an accidental opiate overdose.
This is a global concern and it impacts our relationship with the rest of the world. Lives and liberties have been lost due to punitive prohibitionist policies that fuel the violence of drug cartels. Parents across borders share these struggles, outrage and tears, because their families and communities have been torn apart by the disastrous war on drugs which is really a war waged against our own people. Basic human rights have been eroded, dignity has been decimated, and we are experiencing senseless tragedies. The ravages of the drug war seep through all layers of our lives and the futures of our offspring.
A New PATH and Moms United to End the War on Drugs advocates for policies of tolerance, compassion, restoration and healing, for the sake of our children and future generations. We invite you to join us: www.anewpathsite.org and www.momsunited.net.
Gretchen Burns Bergman
Executive Director & Co-Founder, A New PATH
Lead Organizer, Moms United to End the War on Drugs