Majorities of Republicans, Democrats and Independents Oppose Arresting People for Simple Possession of Any Drug, Want Health Insurers to Provide Treatment and Support Eliminating Mandatory Minimum Sentences for Non-Violent Drug Offenders; Findings Come in the Midst of Escalating Overdose Deaths across the Country and Focus by Presidential Candidates on Alternative Drug Policies
NEW HAMPSHIRE–(ENEWSPF)–January 26, 2016. A substantial majority of New Hampshire presidential primary voters support decriminalizing drug possession, according to a new poll released by the Drug Policy Alliance. 66 percent of voters in the first-in-the-nation primary, including half of all Republicans and 68% of independents, think people caught with a small amount of illegal drugs for personal use should be evaluated for drug issues, offered treatment but not be arrested or face any jail time.
These findings come in the midst of escalating overdose deaths across the country and unprecedented focus by presidential candidates on alternatives to harsh, ineffective drug policies. 80 percent of New Hampshire primary voters consider addressing prescription drug and other drug abuse and the recent surge in overdose deaths an important or urgent issue. 69 percent, including 56 percent of Republicans, say drug abuse should be treated primarily as a health problem rather than a criminal justice problem.
“Now is the time for policymakers to show leadership by laying out clear plans to move our country from a failed criminal justice approach to drugs to a health-based approach,” said Ethan Nadelmann, Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “Their goal should be reducing the role that criminalization and the criminal justice system play in dealing with drugs and drug use as much as possible.”
Support for ending the criminalization of drug use and possession outright is gaining traction in the U.S. More than 1.5 million drug arrests are made every year in this country – the overwhelming majority for possession only. High-profile endorsers of not arresting, let alone jailing, people for possessing small amounts of any drug include the American Public Health Association, the World Health Organization, the Global Commission on Drug Policy, the Organization of American States, the National Latino Congreso, the NAACP, the International Red Cross, and Human Rights Watch.
Other results of the poll include:
- 73 percent, including 57 percent of Republicans and 76% of independents, support eliminating mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenders.
- 72 percent of voters, including 55 percent of Republicans, think health insurance should include treatment for problems people have with drugs.
- 66 percent, including half of Republicans, think New Hampshire’s drug possession laws are too harsh.
- 41 percent would be more likely to support a candidate for president who promised federal support for drug overdose prevention (research, public education and funding local efforts).
- 37 percent of primary voters have been personally affected by prescription drug abuse, heroin abuse or overdose (themselves or someone they know).
Support for ending mandatory minimums comes as Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) is under pressure to co-sponsor the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, a bill to reduce mandatory minimums for drug offenders.
“The American people are tired of the failed war on drugs and want new approaches,” said Bill Piper, Senior Director of National Affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. “Voters want action – overdose prevention, decriminalization, reform of mandatory minimums – and candidates would be wise to deliver. Drug policy reform is an issue that people across the political spectrum agree on; policymakers at the local, state, and federal level need to get it done.”
The poll of 695 New Hampshire primary voters was conducted January 22-24 by Public Policy Polling.
Poll: New Hampshire Primary Voters Strongly Support Decriminalizing Drug Possession, Treating Drugs as a Health Issue, By: Bill Piper, January 26, 2016
A new poll finds that New Hampshire voters support treating drug use as a health issue instead of a criminal justice issue – this includes decriminalizing drug use and possession, eliminating mandatory minimum sentencing, and making naloxone (the antidote to opiate overdoses) more widely available.
Presidential candidates in both parties are speaking in a new, reform-oriented tone when they talk about drugs, addiction and crime. Our country may finally be ready for an exit strategy from the failed war on drugs.
Voters don’t just want more of a health-focused approach to drugs and drug use – they also want to significantly reduce the role of criminalization in drug policy.
Sixty-six percent – including half of all Republicans and 68 percent of Independents – think people caught with a small amount of illegal drugs for personal use should be evaluated for drug issues and offered treatment, but not be arrested or face any jail time. And 73 percent of New Hampshire primary voters – including 57 percent of Republicans and 76 percent of Independents – support eliminating mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders.
Thirty-seven percent of New Hampshire primary voters say that they or someone they know has been affected by prescription drug abuse, heroin abuse or overdose. New Hampshire is among the five states with the highest rate of death due to drug overdose. Nationally, more Americans now die annually from overdose than gunshot wounds or car crashes. Nearly 47,000 Americans died from a drug overdose in 2014, the latest year data is available.
Eighty percent of New Hampshire primary voters consider addressing prescription drug and other drug abuse and the recent surge in overdose deaths an important or urgent issue. Forty-one percent would be more likely to support a candidate for president who promised federal support for drug overdose prevention. Both President Obama and leading congressional Republicans have said they want to pass overdose legislation this year.
This is similar to what happened recently with syringe access programs. An increase in injection drug use among rural and suburban populations sparked an uproar in many red states, leading even conservative states like Indiana and Kentucky to implement programs making sterile syringes widely available to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C and other infectious diseases. The Republican Congress was forced last year to repeal the decades-long ban on federal funding of syringe access programs.
National polls show that more than three-fourths of Americans believe the war on drugs has failed. In 2014 Californians voted overwhelmingly for Proposition 47, a ballot measure reducing penalties for several nonviolent offenses that included a substantial reduction in penalties for drug possession. Voters in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, and the District of Columbia have outright legalized marijuana. Overhauling federal sentencing laws is virtually the only thing that Congress and President Obama agree on, and bipartisan reform could pass this year.
Support for ending the criminalization of drug use and possession is gaining traction. More than 1.5 million drug arrests are made every year in the U.S. – the overwhelming majority for possession only. High-profile endorsers of not arresting, let alone jailing, people for possessing small amounts of any drug include the American Public Health Association, the World Health Organization, the Global Commission on Drug Policy, the Organization of American States, the National Latino Congreso, the NAACP, the International Red Cross, and Human Rights Watch.
Last year government officials and community leaders from over 30 city, county and state jurisdictions gathered at the White House to discuss Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion, or LEAD. Pioneered in Seattle, LEAD allows police to divert individuals who commit low-level drug offenses to harm reduction based case management services instead of jail. An independent evaluation found LEAD reduces the likelihood of reoffending by nearly 60 percent compared to a control group that went through the criminal justice system “as usual.” Santa Fe, New Mexico began implementing LEAD in 2014 and Albany, New York began last year.
Voters want change and smart policymakers are delivering. The old days when candidates for public office could demonize people who use drugs and score political points calling for harsh policies are fading. Millions of Americans have struggled with drugs or know someone who has. Millions more see the devastating consequences of a criminal justice approach to drugs – mass incarceration, racial injustice, wasted tax dollars.
Smart candidates who have a real plan for reducing the problems associated with both drugs and the failed war on drugs are sure to benefit politically.
Bill Piper is senior director of national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance. Follow him on Twitter @billjpiper.
New York Times
Just Saying Yes to the Politics of Drugs, By: Emma Rolle, January 29, 2016
EARLIER this month, former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida opened up on a subject he had once chided reporters for asking about: his daughter, Noelle, who, he said, “was addicted to drugs.”
In a video released by the campaign, Mr. Bush speaks plainly about his daughter’s struggle, her time in jail and drug court, and her recovery. “I can look in people’s eyes and I know that they’ve gone through the same thing that Columba and I have,” he said, referring to his wife.
Mr. Bush is not the only candidate to share this sort of painful personal experience. Carly Fiorina, the former chief executive of Hewlett-Packard, has spoken out about losing her stepdaughter, Lori Ann Fiorina, to “the demons of addiction” at the age of 35. And Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey spoke candidly and emotionally about a law school friend who died of a Percocet overdose.
What’s behind this newfound willingness on the candidates’ part to talk about the personal toll of addiction?
New Hampshire, and the sobering statistics on drug overdoses there, is probably part of the answer.
Every day, 44 people in the United States die as a result of overdose on prescription painkillers. Every day, nearly 7,000 people are treated in emergency rooms for abusing painkillers. Overdose deaths have been creeping upward since the beginning of the 21st century — especially deaths from opiate abuse. In New Hampshire, overdose deaths linked to opiate abuse have more than doubled over the past two years.
Ted Gatsas, the Republican mayor of Manchester, N.H., said he had had many opportunities to talk to Republican candidates, including Mr. Bush, Mr. Christie, Donald J. Trump, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky and Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, about the heroin and prescription-painkiller abuse in his state. He thinks that the overdose problem has been severely underestimated, not just in his city and state, but nationwide.
“I just don’t think anybody, until you put the numbers and talk to them about it, knows that it’s this bad across this country,” he said.
Nearly 50 years into the “war on drugs,” which both Republican and Democratic leaders have waged in various ways, with various disastrous outcomes, drug overdoses reached a record high in 2014. From 2001 to 2014, the United States had more than a threefold increase in deaths from opioid pain relievers, and a sixfold increase in heroin overdoses, according to the National Institutes of Health. During the same period, overdose deaths from prescription drugs like Valium and Klonopin — sedatives called benzodiazepines — increased by five times.
In speaking about their own experiences, Republican candidates are not only allowing themselves to be vulnerable in front of voters, they’re also straying from the just-say-no message of Ronald Reagan, whose legacy includes a tough legislative stance on drugs and drug sentencing. They’re also hoping that voters, especially in early primary states, will empathize.
Grant Smith, a lobbyist with Drug Policy Action, said it was remarkable how much airtime addiction was getting. “If you look over the last two decades, we’ve definitely seen a transformation in how elected officials talk about people who use drugs,” he said. Now there’s more empathy, less scolding. He is glad to see the new rhetoric about addiction, but notes that candidates have become more open about this issue as it has started to take a real toll on largely white communities.
“There’s no question that the shift in who is being impacted by overdose and the attendant harms of drug use to rural and suburban communities has made lawmakers as well as candidates for office more comfortable talking about these issues,” he said. “It’s just that African-American communities have endured high overdose rates for decades, and few lawmakers in Washington cared.”
At a forum at Southern New Hampshire University earlier this month, Governor Kasich spoke with refreshing candor about what some call this “gentrification of addiction.”
“Sometimes I wonder how African-Americans must have felt when drugs were awash in their community and nobody watched,” he said. “Now it’s in our communities, and now all of a sudden we’ve got forums, and God bless us, but think about the struggles that other people had.”
So far, the proposed plans from the candidates to combat addiction have remained frustratingly vague. Mr. Bush’s plan is one exception: It would increase access to drug courts, which allow some nonviolent drug offenders to undergo medical treatment instead of serving jail time, and would also reduce some mandatory minimum sentences.
Beyond criminal justice reform, there is the public health aspect of providing assistance. The Affordable Care Act requires health insurance plans to cover treatment for substance abuse. The Republican candidates who want to repeal Obamacare should answer this question: If you succeed, how will you fund treatment for drug users?
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Finally, there remains the problem of the government classification of different drugs. The Drug Enforcement Administration, formally if not informally, still considers marijuana more dangerous and more addictive than the prescription painkillers and sedatives that accounted for more than 25,000 overdose deaths in 2014.
In Manchester, as Mayor Gatsas welcomes a parade of candidates, he also sees plenty of constituents dealing with the ravages of addiction. Mothers crying, parents writing obituaries that frankly state that their sons and daughters died from heroin overdoses.
“With this epidemic, it’s crossed every boundary. It’s young to old, rich to poor, white to black,” he said. “I tell them, ‘If it hasn’t affected you yet, just wait. It will.’ ”
It’s almost as if it’s a universal issue — which is something the candidates are starting to realize too.
Emma Roller, a former reporter for National Journal, is a contributing opinion writer. This is an article from Campaign Stops at nytimes.com/campaignstops.
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