On Friday, President Obama was joined by Grammy Award-winning rapper Macklemore to discuss the growing epidemic of drug addiction in America.
The president shared some alarming information concerning the growing death rate associated with opioid substance abuse and made it clear that America has to focus on fighting addiction.
Obama’s guest, Macklemore, revealed that he had personal experience battling opioid substance abuse and urged Americans not just to think of drug addiction as someone else’s problem:
Addiction is like any other disease – it doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t care what color you are, whether you’re a guy or a girl, rich or poor, whether you live in the inner-city, a suburb, or rural America. This doesn’t just happen to other people’s kids or in some other neighborhood. It can happen to any of us.
During the address, Obama became the first president in U.S. history to treat drug addiction as a medical issue and not a moral or personal failing. The president also did not make any reference to law enforcement or gun violence often associated with the drug underworld.
Instead, Obama focused solely on tackling addiction, something that law enforcement agencies in high drug dependency areas are slowly started to focus on as well. The president’s approach could mark a huge shift in how the federal government wages it’s failed drug war.
Before opioid and heroin addiction gripped millions of middle and upper-income white Americans, crack cocaine was the most talked about drug in America.
Crack mostly affected lower income urban black neighborhoods and the federal government’s approach to that addiction problem was to build more prisons and enforce longer prison terms.
Programs that focused on treatment and rehabilitation were merely window dressings, receiving only a fraction of the resources prisons and law enforcement agencies received to lock up drug dealers and addicts.
America’s public enemy number one in the United States is drug abuse. In order to fight and defeat this enemy, it is necessary to wage a new, all-out offensive.
I have asked the Congress to provide the legislative authority and the funds to fuel this kind of an offensive. This will be a worldwide offensive dealing with the problems of sources of supply, as well as Americans who may be stationed abroad, wherever they are in the world. It will be government wide, pulling together the nine different fragmented areas within the government in which this problem is now being handled, and it will be nationwide in terms of a new educational program that we trust will result from the discussions that we have had
Unfortunately, Nixon’s “offensive” on drugs wasn’t born out of concern for drug addiction or public safety, but rather an effort to destroy the anti-war and black empowerment movements. His strategy of only attacking the drug supply side of the equation inspired a disastrous culture of criminalization which has destroyed more lives than drugs ever managed to do on their own.
In the 80’s the Republican Reagan administration had a simple answer for drug addiction. President Reagan and his wife Nancy pushed forward a policy which labeled drug addicts as morally weak and self-indulgent people who only needed to “just say no.”
Under his administration, the American government, through the CIA, also helped assist drug traffickers in bringing cocaine into urban neighborhoods to fund a secret war in South America.
The Reagan’s fundamental misunderstanding of drug addiction continued to influence the next two presidencies on both sides of the aisle.
Here’s an excerpt from Republican President George H.W Bush‘s weekly address, where he talked about the danger of drugs:
Good evening. This is the first time since taking the oath of office that I felt an issue was so important, so threatening, that it warranted talking directly with you, the American people. All of us agree that the gravest domestic threat facing our nation today is drugs. Drugs have strained our faith in our system of justice. Our courts, our prisons, our legal system, are stretched to the breaking point. The social costs of drugs are mounting. In short, drugs are sapping our strength as a nation. Turn on the evening news or pick up the morning paper and you’ll see what some Americans know just by stepping out their front door: Our most serious problem today is cocaine, and in particular, crack.
Who’s responsible? Let me tell you straight out — everyone who uses drugs, everyone who sells drugs, and everyone who looks the other way.
In the 90’s Democratic President Bill Clinton’s infamous crime bill helped increase the mass incarceration of millions of Americans who are caught with certain illegal drugs, like crack, in their possession.
It’s taken the oval office 45 years to characterize drug addiction correctly. Hopefully, this will signal an end to the federal government’s failed drug war and America’s start down the road to recovery.
Featured image via video screen capture