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09 – No Cease Fire in Sight


BY Louise Vincent

For the last few years we heard “we are not going to arrest our way out of this problem” ad nauseam. It almost seemed for a moment that we were headed toward a kinder, gentler drug war. We would read articles that would describe disturbing statistics related to opioid overdose and climbing disease rates and then almost without fail we would see some version of the statement “we are not going to arrest our way out of this problem.” It sounded like people actually understood that disconnecting people from their lives only made things worse. Sure, we were still talking about pills and the pill epidemic. The bad guys were doctors and Big Pharma, not drug warriors. But we saw a willingness to move away from a criminal justice approach towards a public health framework. Syringe service programs popped up in places they had always been forbidden and money for the opioid epidemic began to flow.

However, it did not take long for this thinking to completely revert to good old fashioned drug war rhetoric. This is not a new story in the United States. .We love to blame the people with the least amount of power in this country. Now we are racing to schedule fentanyl, implementing mandatory miminums, passing drug induced homicide laws, as well as fetal assault legislation all across the country. More laws, harsher laws, more murder charges, more PUNISHMENT.

These stigmatizing messages have always driven drug war politics. Recently, I have read sensationalist articles that suggest America’s babies are crying for heroin as opposed to their mother’s milk.

These are articles in which medical providers are quoted arguing that drug users should be denied heart valves when they have endocarditis. Sprinkled through all this is just enough stigmatizing social media drug porn to make sure no one gets any ideas about people who use drugs being respectable American people with morals and values.

A New York Times article just a few months ago reads: “His body dependent on opioids, he writhes, trembles, and cries. He is exhausted but cannot sleep. He vomits, barely eats and has lost weight. He is also a baby. Just 1 month old, he wails in the nursery of the CAMC Women and Children’s Hospital here. A volunteer ‘cuddler’ holds him while walking around, murmuring sweetly, hour after hour, but he is inconsolable. What his body craves is heroin.”

All of this takes us right back to where we once were: 80’s crack babies and the push toward mass incarceration.

Our society needs to blame someone or something and guess what? It’s people who use drugs.

We are the people most impacted. We are the people who will suffer because of these policies. It will be our families torn apart and our loved ones separated from one another as we face long prison sentences for simply possessing a substance.

I am terrified for up and coming drug users. How will they survive? What chance do they have? I feel hopeless as we continue coping with fentanyl contamination of our drug supply.

It seems we are living in a culture of death. Everywhere I turn there is loss and death, people I love dying right in front of my eyes. If a friend is sleeping hard and does not wake when I call their name, I shudder with terror. If someone I care about is late to pick me up, I worry. People are dropping dead just like that.

There is no foolproof way to protect oneself these days. People I know who are careful and thoughtful about their drug use, gone! What is to become of all of us? Will we all die?

I watch as money is continually wasted and programs are developed and built on the backs of drug users, only to throw those same users aside when their use shows itself.

Urban Survivors Union, the national drug user union, must reach out to drug users across the country and work to amplify the voice of the active user. We are in a drug war, friends, and there is no cease fire in sight.

Louise Vincent Leadership Team

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