In the war on drugs, it’s the users who have proved the casualties.
On the streets, product is as prolific as ever. In the White House, policy leaders are spouting rhetoric first devised in the 1980s, making it almost as old as the average heroin user when they succumb to their addiction.
Something needs to change, and it’s a courthouse in Buffalo, New York that’s showing how that change can be made.
Here, court #11 is known as Opioid Court. Presided over by Judge Craig Hannah – a former addict himself – the court focuses not on punishment, but support.
Rather than having to suffer through withdrawal while awaiting trial, addicts are placed in rehabilitation within a few days of their initial arrest. They are then brought before the judge who, rather than sentencing them, speaks with them. He asks how they are doing, what help they might need, and reminds them that they are not alone.
For most of those who appear before Judge Hannah have lost their entire support network. Without somebody to turn to in those important moments where an addict recognises they need help, the cycle is doomed to continue.
The program isn’t completely dislocated from the traditional court system – addicts will still face criminal charges – but it’s a step in the right direction; a step towards empathy, and understanding.
Addiction is never about the drug use. It’s about what leads to the drug use. And so long as policy fails to reflect this, the war on drugs will never be won.