What would our country look like if instead of declaring a war on drugs 30 years ago, we declared a war on addiction and approached it like the medical condition that it is? How many lives could have been saved? How many families would not have been destroyed?
The war on drugs has been an abject failure and a national disgrace. I didn’t come to this conclusion by watching ‘The Wire’ but by actually seeing how it plays out in day-to-day existence over the last 14 years in Braddock.
Heroin has been a hot topic recently now that white suburban neighborhoods have experienced a spike in opioid abuse. But for years, this problem has been ravaging communities of color, like my town of Braddock, while their pain went ignored by Washington.
Silence and inaction are no longer an option. Most political candidates aren’t comfortable even talking about heroin addiction, let alone campaigning on it, but I feel so strongly about this issue, I’m making it the focus of a TV ad.
No candidate for U.S. Senate has seen the realities of heroin addiction up close like I have. Just this summer, a man who had overdosed on heroin crashed his car right in front of our house. He likely would have died if first responders hadn’t given him Narcan, a medicine that blocks the effects of opioids and can reverse an overdose. (We later held a training in my own home to teach residents how they can identify an overdose and use Narcan to potentially save a victim’s life.)
Two years ago, a 16-year-old boy was killed after he made the tragic mistake of breaking into a stash house, and the dealers put a $5,000 bounty on his head.
$5,000. That was all it cost to take a human life.
If we start treating addiction as a public health issue, with more compassion, and without the criminal element, our society will be better off and violence and public safety will improve as a result. We’ll also be taking a big step in taking down the prison-industrial complex that disproportionately harms communities of color.
You can’t lock away a problem and throw away the key.
I don’t know if it’s an unpopular view or a popular view, but it’s the truth. That’s what I’m going to say and that’ll consistently be my message.