Pubdate: Sat, 09 Jan 2016
Source: Chico Enterprise-Record (CA)
Copyright: 2016 Chico Enterprise-Record
Note: Letters from newspaper's circulation area receive publishing priority
Author: Cynthia Tucker


Five Republican presidential contenders this week addressed a New 
Hampshire forum concerned with a crisis swamping certain regions of 
the country, including New England: heroin addiction.

The candidates spoke passionately, some sharing personal experiences.

Jeb Bush spoke of his family's turmoil as his daughter Noelle, now 38 
and in recovery, struggled with an addiction to prescription drugs 
and cocaine. "What I learned was that the pain that you feel when you 
have a loved one who has addiction challenges and kind of spirals out 
of control is something that is shared with a whole lot of people," he said.

Carly Fiorina also talked about her family's struggles. Her 
stepdaughter died at 34 after years of battling drug and alcohol abuse.

"As Lori grew progressively sicker, the sparkle, the potential, the 
possibilities that had once filled her life - disappeared from behind 
her eyes," she said.

This new frankness and sympathy concerning the physical, emotional 
and financial costs of drug addiction comes as white middle-class 
Americans have found their lives upended by the emergence of heroin 
as the drug of choice for their children and grandchildren. 
Nationwide, the number of deaths from heroin rocketed from fewer than 
2,000 in 2001 to more than 10,000 in 2014, according to the National 
Institute on Drug Abuse. And experts say that nearly 90 percent of 
those who tried heroin for the first time in the last decade were white.

As a result of their experience, there has been a stark change in 
public perceptions of drug abuse. You see it not only in the more 
sympathetic rhetoric on the campaign trail, but also in the less 
aggressive methods of law enforcement and the softer penalties meted 
out by legislative bodies. Police chiefs now speak of addiction as a 
medical and psychological problem that deserves treatment, not 
incarceration. And parents insist that their children be treated as 
victims, not as perpetrators.

If this signals an end to the wretched, misguided and punitive war on 
drugs, I welcome it. Still, I find it heartbreaking that the nation 
didn't have the clearheadedness, the courage and the compassion to 
see addiction as something other than a crime during the 1980s, when 
crack was the scourge of poor black neighborhoods.

Back then, lawmakers, especially conservatives, competed to see who 
could impose the harshest measures on poor drug addicts, and police 
routinely rounded up penny-ante dealers to bolster arrest records. I 
can recall the accusations about crack users, the phony science, the 
harebrained predictions.

When Congress passed the 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act, it enacted 
mandatory minimum sentences for drugs and enshrined into law harsher 
penalties for the use of crack cocaine than for powdered cocaine, 
which was more likely to be used by whites. Offering up assertions 
not backed by any data, lawmakers insisted that crack was more 
dangerous - as were its users.

Remember the dire warnings about crack babies? According to some 
so-called experts, the nation would see a wave of children born to 
crackhead moms, babies whose intelligence would always be stunted and 
whose physical capacities would always be limited. In fact, those 
pseudo-facts turned out to be gross exaggerations. Some babies were, 
in fact, born addicted, but, given appropriate medical care, most 
have turned out to be no different than their non-addicted peers.

The crack epidemic finally died away, but the after-effects of the 
misguided war on drugs linger in the lives of countless black men and 
women. That so-called war has drained the national treasury of 
billions of dollars, torn apart countless black families and 
decimated entire black neighborhoods.

It has made permanent second-class citizens of tens of thousands of 
black men and women because felony records have rendered them 
virtually unemployable.

Now that we seem to have finally figured out that addicts deserve 
alternatives to prison, perhaps we can find a way to help those who 
bear the scars of the war on drugs. They are victims, too.
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