Pubdate: Sun, 03 Feb 2008
Source: Baltimore Sun (MD)
Copyright: 2008 The Baltimore Sun Company
Author: Tony Newman
Note: Tony Newman is the director of media relations for the Drug 
Policy Alliance.


Despite His Struggles With Addiction, The President's Policies Show 
Little Compassion

Visiting Baltimore last week, President Bush shared his personal 
struggles against alcohol addiction with former prisoners in recovery 
who are enrolled in Jericho, a program to help them re-enter 
productively into society. Mr. Bush recounted having given up alcohol 
the day after his 40th birthday, after a "particularly boozy night." 
He often credits his Christian faith for giving him the strength to stay sober.

Although his presidency is almost over, it's not too late for Mr. 
Bush to do much good as a role model and advocate for people 
recovering from addiction. To succeed, he will have to keep a few 
things in mind:

Drug misuse doesn't discriminate, but our drug policies do.

George W. Bush, Al Gore III, Rush Limbaugh and Rep. Patrick J. 
Kennedy all remind us that anyone can be susceptible to drug 
problems; addiction does not discriminate. Unfortunately, our drug 
policies do. Despite similar rates of drug use, blacks go to jail at 
13 times the rate of whites. In New York state, 91 percent of the 
people incarcerated under the draconian Rockefeller drug laws are 
black or Latino - grossly disproportionate to their share of the 
population or involvement in illegal drug use and sales. Too often, 
treatment is reserved for the privileged, jail for the poor.

Most families will confront addiction at some point.

Almost every family in America has had to deal with drug addiction or 
has experienced "collateral damage" from the drug war. President Bush 
is not the only Bush to have had serious problems with addiction. His 
niece Noelle Bush was arrested for trying to fill a fake prescription 
for Xanax. While in a treatment program, she was busted for crack cocaine.

Fortunately for her, she was able to get help without being forced to 
spend years of her life behind bars. Millions of other people without 
money or powerful connections - including many thousands in Baltimore 
- - are not as lucky. Millions nationwide have a loved one behind bars 
on drug charges, and millions more have struggled themselves with 
addiction to illegal or legal drugs. By declaring a "war on drugs," 
we have declared a war on ourselves.

There are many effective strategies for dealing with addiction.

Mr. Bush was able to give up his drinking "cold turkey" and used his 
faith to help himself. Millions use abstinence programs such as 
Alcoholics Anonymous when trying to give up drugs. Some people give 
up one addiction, such as heroin, but may still hold on to smoking 
marijuana or cigarettes. Many people who quit a drug will relapse one 
or more times before finding the strength to quit again. There are 
many pathways and strategies for dealing with an addiction. There is 
no "one size fits all" approach.

Current administration policies emphasize prison and punishment over 
compassion and treatment.

Mr. Bush's words of encouragement to the men he encountered at 
Jericho were well-intentioned. But actions are better than words, and 
the government could do a few things that would make a huge 
difference in the lives of drug offenders.

One would think that Mr. Bush's personal struggles would have him 
advocate for treatment over jail and punishment. "Addiction is hard 
to overcome," Mr. Bush told the ex-offenders, and that's true. But 
maybe it would be a little easier if the government were to put more 
resources into treatment. According to the Office of National Drug 
Control Policy, only 35 percent of the federal drug control budget is 
spent on education, prevention and treatment combined, with the 
remaining 65 percent devoted to law enforcement efforts.

Our drug policies have led to the United States' becoming the world 
leader in incarceration. We have 5 percent of the world's population 
but 25 percent of all the world's prisoners, with more than 2.3 
million in prisons and jails, more per capita than Russia, Belarus or 
China. Of that 2.3 million, about 500,000 are incarcerated on drug charges.

I appreciate President Bush's opening up and sharing his struggles 
with drug addiction. (Yes, alcohol is a drug.) It is helpful to 
remind people that addiction is an issue that so many of us have had 
to deal with - that spares no one.

I just wish that his personal experiences would give him the wisdom 
and courage to advocate generous and caring drug policies for everyone.
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