The war on drugs hasn’t worked. Time to change attitudes

Not surprisingly, perhaps, the 60 Minutes Facebook page is hosting a spirited debate following last night’s broadcast in which the show revisited an Ohio community that has been devastated by the heroin epidemic. Its broadcast last year first raised the national alarm over the drug.

It also started the debate over whether the new focus on addicts as ill rather than criminals has something to do with the fact they’re white and suburban.

The answer, as the New York Times said in an editorial last year, is “probably.” The “war on drugs” has often fallen along racial lines, particularly considering the penalties for rock cocaine were harsher than for cocaine in a powder form.

In any event, there’s a more enlightened approach to the problem and does it matter how we got there?

The 60 Minutes broadcast used Ohio’s drug courts as an example of this new attitude in which the court encourages addicts to undergo treatment when the alternative is a life-ruining felony. Minnesota has used drugs courts for several years, and with good reason: they work, research shows.

“The attorney general is not going to solve the problem. Your local sheriff, your local prosecutor is not going to,” warned Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said.

Waseca County News has more proof with its profile today of Ashly Sylvester, who last week became the Steele Waseca Drug Court program’s first-ever graduate.

Two years ago, she smoked marijuana constantly and had for 10 years. She kicked a crack habit was selling meth after her mother kicked her out of her home in Waseca, the paper says.

She had eight felony charges against her, which, she calculated, would’ve meant 99 years in prison.

Once Ashly Sylvester committed to Drug Court, she was all in.

“I didn’t realize until I got in recovery how much turmoil I’d created,” she says.

More than 19 months after entering Drug Court, Sylvester, 578 days sober, attended more than 50 court hearings, took 175 drug tests and exceeded 420 recovery hours in treatment, meetings and mental health support.

Today, Sylvester wants to get back into college and is considering a career working with disabled children. She describes herself as confident and determined.

Grams, Waseca County Attorney Brenda Miller and others on the Drug Court team call her a leader.

When other Drug Court participants needed rides, Sylvester ferried them to meetings. When they needed support or an ear, Sylvester was there. And when they were looking to have some fun, Sylvester took them to drug-free events.

Not all the stories are tales of success. Some participants dropped out and decided it would be easier to do jail time.

But there are more graduates coming on Wednesday and more waiting to get into the program, which is full.

Whether this works seems to depend on the rest of us, too, and whether we’re ready to truly view addiction as an illness.

Regardless of whether reports turn out to be true or not, the online pushback against reports that a local celebrity may have overdosed, contributing to his death, reveals that we’re not nearly ready to back up our words with a true change in our attitude.

From the archive: Graduation Day at the Drug Court (NewsCut)