By State Representative, Leon D. Young
This week the State Assembly convened in Special Session to consider a battery of new bills, which are intended to deal with the alarming rate of opiate addiction in Wisconsin. The legislative response that’s now being proposed is good public policy on its face. But viewed in a slightly different light, there’s clearly an appearance of political hypocrisy.
Don’t get me wrong. The menacing threat of individuals getting strung out on prescription medications that subsequently leads to heroin dependency is a real tragedy that needs attention. State Representative John Nygren, (R-Marinette), has become the Legislature’s torchbearer for authoring bills to fight the state’s heroin and opiate epidemic. Unfortunately, this sense of urgency is a recent development and seems to be afforded only to a select demographic.
In truth, communities of color in Wisconsin, and nationwide, have been devastated by the ravages of drug addiction for decades. The typical legal response for residents living in these communities has been punitive in nature: the imposition of lengthy prison sentences. Consequently, thousands of minorities now find themselves languishing in prison cells for nonviolent, drug offenses.
Clearly, the paradigm for confronting drug abuse has changed – for some. The individuals with addictions that stem from a dependency on prescription drugs are no longer seen through a criminal justice prism. Instead, these individuals are thought to be suffering from a disease and are being afforded several medical treatment options.
The GOP’s new found religion and change of heart when it comes to a certain form of drug addiction is quite interesting. It would safe to say that Rep. Nygren’s unbridled advocacy in this area has been motivated, in large part, by his own daughter’s substance abuse issues. Moreover, it has been reported in the media that Wisconsin’s top cop, Attorney General Brad Schimel, claims that addressing the state’s heroin and opiate problem is his top priority. This brings us to Scott Walker’s sudden interest in the opiate epidemic. After his disastrous presidential bid and dismal approval rating, Walker is desperate to identify salient issues that will improve his standing with voters. Thus, to make political hay, the governor called a Special Session to address the opiate and heroin crisis.
With that being said, there would appear to be a double standard when it comes to dealing with the drug addiction problem in this state. If prescription meds were the gateway drug to an opiate addiction, there’s a medical response that’s being advocated. However, if one’s addiction stems from another kind of abuse, the response is generally criminal in nature. Shouldn’t all drug abuse be treated the same? And, shouldn’t there be a concerted effort to provide treatment instead of prison?