By now, you probably have seen the now viral video of New Jersey Governor and GOP Presidential candidate Chris Christie talking about the drug abuse crisis. If you haven’t watched it yet, I encourage you to take a few minutes to watch it now before reading the rest of this article:
For me, what is very powerful about this video, is this is clearly a speech from the heart. There are no teleprompters, no carefully scripted talking points. It is a man relaying two very powerful and personal stories and in no certain terms saying the stigma of drug abuse needs to stop, and it needs to stop now. This is also very powerful because, unfortunately, the heroin crisis really hasn’t been set as one of the top issues in this presidential campaign. To date, it has not come up as a question in any of the debates. So there was no political upside to that speech, it wasn’t going to have him rocketing up the polls. But these things need to be said, and said by more leaders. Indeed, as Christie mentions in the video, paraphrasing “the President needs to be saying these things.” He couldn’t be more right.
Now, to be fair, other candidates have answered questions on the topic and have put forth some plans. Hillary Clinton has a $10 Billion plan to invest in the prevention and treatment of drug and alcohol addiction. It’s a good plan, and if she does end up becoming President I hope she is able to pass it and put it into action. Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders approach to the drug abuse epidemic? More drugs. No seriously, that is his plan. When you visit the Bernie Sanders drug policy page of his website, the vast majority of it is dedicated to the legalization of marijuana. What is his policy proposal to address the heroin epidemic?
“Bernie believes heroin use is at epidemic levels, and that our country lacks the infrastructure to combat this issue. He thinks treatment is necessary, because, as he as put it, “Once you’re into heroin, it’s either jail or death.”
So, he has no policy to address the heroin epidemic, he just restated the problem. However, he’s all over legalizing marijuana and making sure we have more of that in our communities. Sadly, now Hillary Clinton is following suit with a proposal to reschedule marijuana to, in her mind, increase research of marijuana for medical purposes. This, quite simply, is a misinformed proposal. Marijuana being a Schedule I drug has not, and does not, prevent medical research. Her proposal is simply setting up a symbolic victory for the marijuana industry as it continues to push legalization on more states.
Meanwhile, from my perspective as a substance abuse prevention professional, Governor Christie has the correct equation when it comes to dealing with drug abuse in the United States. As is clear in his speech, and in his policies, he advocates for treating addiction with compassion and to provide the tools people need to recover and reintegrate into communities. At the same time, he does not support legalizing and increasing the availability of marijuana.
“I’m not for legalizing drugs because it sends exactly the wrong message to people…it does lead to other things, and it does lead to an inability to focus and be productive,” Christie said.
Christie has it right. It makes no sense to have a policy to address one part of the addiction problem while worsening it somewhere else. Think of the addiction crisis as a boat taking on water. The Clinton approach would be to bail the water but make the holes in the boat larger. The Sanders approach is apparently to ditch the bucket and drill more holes in the boat. Meanwhile, the Christie approach is to bail the water and repair the holes to rescue the boat and make it stronger.
This is the right approach. That is not just opinion, it is backed by science and data. Someone who develops a marijuana addiction is three times more likely to develop an addiction to heroin. You simply cannot hope to make progress in addressing the substance use issues in our country if you are going to increase access to drugs. Chris Christie gets this. My hope is that eventually Sanders, Clinton, and the other candidates will talk to prevention professionals like myself to hear the reality of the situation. Otherwise, we are simply making drug industries rich while our friends, families, and neighbors continue to suffer. That, most assuredly, would be an utterly failed drug policy.