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Practical Politics

The politics of the new-old War on Drugs

David L. Horne, PH.D. | 8/3/2017, midnight

America’s War on Drugs (WOD) (aka War on Black People) has been an ongoing messy affair for nearly 50 years. It has not stopped drug trafficking, it has not stopped drug addiction, and it has not made the USA safer. In fact, most analysts agree that, instead, the WOD has at best only propelled the incarceration of massive numbers of Americans (especially Black Americans), driven millions of families further into permanent poverty, and perpetuated the cycle of drug abuse in the country. The WOD has not been able to “arrest and incarcerate addiction out of the American people.”

The WOD was officially declared by former President Richard Nixon in 1971. Nixon, in the midst of the Vietnam War, publicly announced that drug abuse and drug trafficking were America’s greatest problems at that time. Interestingly, one of Mr. Nixon’s top aides and co-conspirators in the later Watergate scandal, John Erhlichman, in a 1994 interview, ended uncertainty about the reason for the War on Drugs. According to Mr. Erhlichman, “You want to know what this was really all about?”….The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and Black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or Black people, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and Blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

In the present day, the new drug crisis is the opioid drug epidemic, and there are still those lawmakers and administrators who think that simply adopting a “get-tough on drugs” policy will solve the problem, just as it did so well before. In fact, there is a new bi-partisan U.S. Senate bill now being prepared to increase penalties for those caught abusing and/or selling opioid-related drugs. President Trump just gave another speech decrying former President Barack Obama’s commutation of so many sentences for drug dealers, while at the same time promising money for more drug treatment centers for opioid users. He even appointed New Jersey governor Chris Christy to head the effort.

The opioid drug epidemic affects a lot more Whites than Blacks in this country, thus Mr. Trump’s position on increased treatment facilities to handle the issue. Actually, even with what seems to be a racist motivation, increasing medical treatment for opioid drug abusers is a more logical and supported option than simply increasing arrests and incarceration. That was the considered conclusion of Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy’s November 2016 landmark report on addiction (“Facing Addiction in America”). More arrests had not worked, and were simply not going to work.

Unfortunately, Mr. Trump ignored this ground already covered and simply created another commission which will undoubtedly come to the same conclusions, while more and more people become addicted and die from opioid drug use within that time period. Already, more than 52,000 people a year die in America from opioid drug abuse and overdoses. That is more than die yearly from auto accidents, gun-related shootings, and more than died in the entirety of the Vietnam War.

By the way, opioid drugs (pain killers) include Percocet, Vicondin, generic codeine, heroin, fentanyl (Actiq, Duragesic, Fentora), hydrocodone (Hysingla, Zohydro), hydrocodone/acetaminophen (Lorcet, Lortab, Norco, Vicodin), hydromorphone (Dilaudid, Exalgo), meperidine (Demerol), and methadone (Dolophine, Methadose). This is an epidemic begun by physicians oversubscribing patients for pain relief. People now steal and sell the stuff on the street.

With the color code changing in the modern drug epidemic, will there finally be a viable solution to the problem? Beyond gentrification, lowered literacy rates, underemployment and other issues being grappled with, one hopes, for the sake of the Black community, the answer is yes.

Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPIE, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the step-parent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.

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