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The War on Drugs - and the results of it A war against drugs, or against families?

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Old 03-07-2005, 04:14 PM
witchlinblue witchlinblue is offline
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Default Article: Mom needs treatment, not prison

Mom needs treatment, not prison

February 7, 2005

BY BRIAN DICKERSON
FREE PRESS COLUMNIST

There are two kinds of people in the world. The first kind cannot imagine the circumstances in which they'd buy heroin for their own child, as Oakland County prosecutors allege Sheila Black, the mother of a 16-year-old Ferndale High School student, did last week.

The second kind have known or loved someone addicted to drugs or alcohol, and many can imagine almost anything.

I know that's simplistic. And I don't mean to suggest that any sane parent, including those whose own children have been caught in the maw of addiction, would ever condone what Black is accused of.

But law-abiding citizens have many ways of expressing their disapproval. If ever there was an instance in which the mechanical imposition of a harsh prison sentence was the wrong way, surely this is one.

The bigger problem

According to a neglect petition Oakland County prosecutors filed last week, the 41-year-old Black had just purchased 10 bags of heroin with the intent of delivering them to her son when police arrested her outside his high school.

Black told the arresting officers she'd made the purchase after her son threatened to kill himself if she didn't help him get drugs. She appears to have had last-minute reservations about handing the heroin over, but she was taken into custody after police found the narcotics and a hypodermic syringe in her parked pickup.

In their petition seeking to terminate Black's parental rights, prosecutors say Black is struggling with substance-abuse problems of her own. She told police she was using OxyContin, a powerful painkiller, on a daily basis, and witnesses say she appeared to be under the influence of drugs at the time of her arrest.

But it's unclear whether the circumstances of Black's arrest will allow her to be diverted to a program that emphasizes treatment rather than incarceration.

She theoretically faces up to 20 years in prison on felony narcotics charges, although such a sentence would be a dramatic departure from the sentencing guidelines for first offenders.

To end addiction, fight it

More than four decades after then-President Richard Nixon coined the phrase to describe a massive law enforcement effort against users and suppliers, many law enforcement professionals continue to frame their work as a war on drugs.

Some even say we're winning that war, pointing to a gradual decrease in the proportion of Americans who use illegal narcotics -- about 1 in 14, compared with 1 in 7 a generation ago.

But you can't even get past Black and her son without exhausting the metaphor's usefulness. Who are these two, exactly, in the war on drugs? Enemy combatants? Civilian hostages? Victims of collateral damage?

Michigan and other states have made dramatic strides in recognizing addiction as a problem susceptible to treatment, especially when judges are empowered to use what one calls "short bursts of jail time" to keep backsliding substance abusers on the treatment track.

But the resources available for treatment are still too limited. And judges closest to the problem still enjoy too little discretion to identify likely beneficiaries of treatment.

I don't know what toxic combination of maternal desperation and chemical dependence leads a mother to feed her own son's heroin habit. But I suspect the answer lies in the realm of neuroscience.

If addiction is to be defeated, the war against it must be prosecuted, like the war on cancer, in laboratories and clinics.
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Old 03-08-2005, 09:00 PM
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Jeni Jeni is offline
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I remember hearing about this on the news a few days ago. At first I was horrified! I mean, what mother could do that?
But then I heard more of the story, and even though I definitely do not think what she did was right by any means, I can understand a bit of her frustration and fear. If she honestly believed that her son was going to kill himself if he didn't get the heroin, and I think there are quite a few of us who know how heartbreaking and scary it is watching someone you love, let alone your own child, basically crumble before your eyes, I can understand a little bit of her manic thinking.
NOT that it was ok, cuz it wasn't.
However, I hope she doesn't get nailed with a prison sentence cuz she needs help, and her son definitely needs help.
What a mess!!!
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