Pubdate: Sat, 26 Mar 2016
Source: Appeal-Democrat (Marysville, CA)
Copyright: 2016 Associated Press
Authors: Lisa Marie Pane and Emily Swanson, Associated Press


NEW YORK (AP) - Sharon Johnson calls herself an addict, although 
she's been sober for three years now. She started by smoking pot and 
eventually moved to crack cocaine. Her daughter has tried heroin, and 
"I believe I'm going to pull her out of the gutter someday," Johnson laments.

Johnson has seen firsthand the ravages of drug abuse reflected in a 
national Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research 
poll. Whether it's alcohol or illegal drugs such as heroin and 
cocaine, a majority of Americans say it's a problem and that more 
needs to be done to address it.

Johnson, 56, of Lynn, Mass., said she doesn't believe any drug should 
be legalized and believes more needs to be done to crack down on 
dealers. She goes to Narcotics Anonymous meetings every Thursday and 
sees too many of her companions there relapsing and dying from drug 
use. Still, she considers treatment the best option for users rather 
than prosecution.

"To lock someone up for using, it's not going to solve anything. 
They're going to rebel," Johnson, a poll respondent, told the AP in a 
follow-up interview. "For dealers, in my eyes, they should be locked up."

The poll found most Americans  62 percent  said at least one type of 
substance use was a serious problem in their communities.

That included alcohol, marijuana, heroin, cocaine, meth and 
prescription pills. Some 43 percent said they have a relative or 
close friend with substance abuse issues. Seven in 10 Americans 
believe not enough is being done to find better addiction treatment 
or to make treatment programs more accessible in their communities.

And, like Johnson, most prioritized punishment for drug dealers 
rather than cracking down on users.

It was a long road for Johnson to get clean. She bounced from couch 
to couch because she couldn't pay the rent. She's estranged from her 
sister after going on a binge and not returning a debit card her 
sister lent her.

"Before I got locked up, my probation officer told me, 'Sharon, 
you're going to end up dead,'" Johnson said. "I was in denial a long 
time, and one day I did a complete turnaround."

Johnson spent six months in treatment as part of Project COPE, an 
outpatient substance abuse treatment program. She's now on disability 
and hopes to complete her education.

She spends time with her grandchildren. Lynn, a city of 90,000 north 
of Boston, has experienced one of the state's highest rates of deaths 
from heroin.

Johnson's story captures much of what the AP-NORC survey described: A 
feeling that drugs are a pervasive problem, with many seeing friends 
or relatives ravaged by drugs and believing that treatment options 
need to be improved for addicts while punishment needs to be fierce 
for dealers.

While 61 percent of those surveyed said they support legalizing 
marijuana, most said they want it limited to medical treatment or 
want to impose restrictions on amounts that can be purchased.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom