Is Seattle a Model for Fighting Drug Addiction?

0 0
Read Time6 Minute, 24 Second

To the Editor:

Re “Ending the War on Drugs,” by Nicholas Kristof (Sunday Review, Aug. 25):

This article gives me hope that Seattle is finally doing something about the devastation of drug use on its streets.

My son is a struggling heroin addict, and thank God is now a part of the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion, or LEAD, program. He completed treatment in jail through drug court, finished work release, is now in drug court housing and meets with his counselor at LEAD.

I know firsthand how difficult it is for families. I’ve walked the streets of downtown Seattle looking for my son where drug users and dealers hang out. I’ve seen them passed out with a needle hanging out of an arm or leg. I’d ask myself, What is Seattle doing to fix this problem?

Addicts need support. The LEAD program is good, but what about those addicts who haven’t been arrested and directed to LEAD?

Kathy Kier

To the Editor:

Believing that I could never agree with Nicholas Kristof about anything, I found myself gobsmacked that I agreed, writ large, with his profile of Seattle attempting to end the war on drugs.

I don’t agree with his emphasis on race and privilege, but it’s about time to completely end the war on drugs — and I say this as a former narcotics prosecutor in Brooklyn during the golden age of crack. Only total legalization will work. But saying drugs should be legal is not saying that drugs are good.

We, as a nation, need to approach this as adults, and stop doing something that hasn’t ever worked well but has been doubled down on every decade.

Michael G. Brautigam

To the Editor:

Portugal’s decriminalization of drugs reduced the number of heroin users from 100,000 to 25,000. Its drug mortality rate became the lowest in Western Europe.

What’s badly needed is to look at the real reason for criminalizing drugs. The first anti-cocaine laws in the early 1900s were aimed at black men in the South. The first anti-marijuana laws in the early 20th century targeted Mexican migrants and Mexican-Americans.

The “war on drugs” was coined by President Richard Nixon. A top Nixon aide, John Ehrlichman, later admitted that it was aimed at Mr. Nixon’s two major enemies, the antiwar left and black people: Criminalization meant that “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.”

The war on drugs had little or nothing to do with health or safety. It was about political persecution.

Roger Carasso
Santa Fe, N.M.

To the Editor:

Wow! Are you kidding me? This is the most fantasized assessment of Seattle’s drug epidemic I’ve ever seen. In actuality, we are spiraling toward complete social meltdown here, and Nicholas Kristof thinks we’ve figured out how to end the war on drugs?

As a three-decade resident of Seattle, I can tell you that from the sprawling homeless camps ringing the city, to the bedraggled hordes of dead-eyed addicts on Second Avenue, to the piles of human feces in Pioneer Square, there is no progress being made to end the heroin epidemic in this city. Whatever actions local governments are taking only make things worse.

Seattle is becoming a wasteland of crime, refuse, excrement and addiction. It’s disgusting to watch and it gets worse every year.

Bryan Gruner
Bellevue, Wash.

To the Editor:

Tobacco products, which kill almost 500,000 people per year, are legal, and still advertised to a limited extent. Alcoholic beverages, which kill about 88,000 people annually, are not only legal but also widely advertised. Many of the opioid deaths are a result of accidental overdoses because users are unaware of just how much drug is in a particular dosage they consume.

Why not legalize opioids but: sell them only from government operated “package stores” (as alcohol still is in certain jurisdictions) so that doses are known; have no advertising; have a massive public health program? Accidental overdose deaths would be virtually eliminated; the criminal drug trade would be eliminated; and, if the tobacco-use cessation program model were followed, use would go down.

Steven Jonas
Port Jefferson, N.Y.
The writer, professor emeritus of preventive medicine at Stony Brook Medicine, is the author of “Ending the ‘Drug War’; Solving the Drug Problem: The Public Health Approach.”

To the Editor:

In highlighting Seattle’s new approach to drug possession, Nicholas Kristof makes a compelling case that it is past time to adopt a public health approach to addiction, but he is too narrow in his conclusions. When we view the war on drugs strictly though the lens of drug possession, we fail to include people who need help the most: those who have committed crimes driven by their addiction and/or mental health disorder and who face incarceration as a result (crimes including D.U.I., theft, property crimes). These individuals desperately need treatment but are not eligible for diversion via programs like LEAD, which typically only address drug possession.

Treatment courts — including drug court, D.W.I. court and veterans treatment court — offer an alternative to incarceration and a path to recovery. They connect participants with evidence-based treatment and other services in their community, including housing, employment and family reunification. Research confirms the majority of those who complete treatment courts go on to live healthy, productive lives. When considering a public health approach to addiction, treatment courts must be part of the solution.

Carson Fox
Alexandria, Va.
The writer is chief executive of the National Association of Drug Court Professionals.

To the Editor:

I thought that Nicholas Kristof’s article was very good in showing the efforts of Seattle’s prosecuting attorney, Dan Satterberg, to scale back on drug prosecutions and promote treatment alternatives.

My one objection is his statement that “the war on drugs began in 1971 out of a legitimate alarm about narcotics both in the United States and among U.S. troops in Vietnam.” My book “The Myth of the Addicted Army: Vietnam and the Modern War on Drugs” detailed how the media and politicians exaggerated the scope of drug abuse in Vietnam and created a false moral panic about drugs that drove forward the war on drugs.

This history is important to remember as we develop alternatives to the war on drugs and war on crime today. In particular, we need to understand how exaggerated fears and false moral panics, stoked by ambitious politicians and yellow journalism, can lead to irrational policy responses that should never be repeated.

Jeremy Kuzmarov
Tulsa, Okla.

To the Editor:

I want to thank Nicholas Kristof for bringing our attention to the successful way Seattle’s Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program is addressing the interplay of drug addiction and the law. I support his call for more “evidence-based public health interventions.” At Exponents, we also invest in evidence-based practices that employ recovering individuals and those with the lived experience of addiction.

Recovering addicts, especially those who have benefited from a particular treatment or process, have great value in engaging and helping an active addict. Medication-assisted treatments are effective, but the recovering community is an underutilized asset in our efforts to bring this opiate epidemic under control.

Howard Josepher
New York
The writer is co-founder and chief clinical officer of Exponents, an organization dedicated to improving the quality of life of people affected by drug addiction, incarceration and H.I.V./AIDS.