End the War on Drugs for Good | Christina Dent | TEDxJackson

End the War on Drugs for Good | Christina Dent | TEDxJackson

so I grew up here in Mississippi in a conservative family wonderful happy home I was home-schooled from kindergarten through high school and I never had any interest in drug use just say no sounded great to me wasn't interested I went to a Christian University and I got a degree in Bible so there's no wild college stories there either and I still never used an illegal drug I still have no interest in that so my story is not one ever radically changed lifestyle it's one of a radically changed mind so about five years ago and for my whole life prior to that point my thoughts about drugs had been pretty simple drugs are bad drug use is bad outlawing drugs sounds like the right thing to do I never stopped to consider how do you actually wage a war on drugs what does that look like in the real world and the lives of real people until he became a foster family and through almost four years of foster care I began to see up close what's actually happening with the war on drugs in real people's lives Joanne had struggled with addiction for many years and she could not beat her addiction even during her pregnancy so her son was removed from her custody and put in foster care because of her prenatal drug use and he was brought to my house and we became his foster family straight from the hospitals now I didn't know anything about addiction and I just assumed that moms who use drugs while they were pregnant must not love their children I had never thought about it really at all but I brought back home to his first visit with Joann after he came to us I hadn't met her I went to the local child welfare office and I pulled up and popped his little car seat out of my van and I turned around and there sprinting across the parking lot towards me mr. Winn was tears streaming down her face and she didn't look at me at all she just covered her son with kisses and I felt this Bishan is this real is she just trying to impress me how why would she be using drugs if she really loved her son this just doesn't make sense so Joanne left for inpatient drug treatment and she would call me from treatment and asked me to put around speakerphone and she would sing to Beckham and I felt this war in my heart beginning to happen over everything I had always believed about drugs and people who used them and what I was now actually seeing because I saw overtime and the more that I got to know Joanne that she is a mom like me and she loves her son just as much as I love my three sons and now I had a problem because my simple way of understanding drugs had met the real world and real people and now I could see that putting Joanne in jail would be horrible but leaving Beckham without a mother who loved him would be terrible and for the first time in my life I considered is the criminal justice system the right tool to be using for this issue of drugs because I could see in Joanne's life that it would create this chain reaction of harm it would harm her through the trauma of jail it would harm her son through taking away his mom it would harm their extended family as they tried to support this broken family unit and those traumas would carry on into the next generation so this war in my heart became a war in my mind I started to wonder is there actually evidence and research out there that proves that what I feel is wrong about this is actually wrong about this and is there actually better ways that we could be handling drugs that would really reduce harm to people and would help families like Joann and Beckham actually thrive instead of just creating a chain reaction of harm so I went on this journey to learn and try to figure out how does all this stuff going on in my mind and my heart work together and what I learned on that journey is that drug arms actually fall into two categories my whole life I'd lumped him into one I thought they all belonged in this category of harms that come from drugs it's just all from the drugs but I learned that there's actually two categories one is a harm from the substances that we put in our bodies and the harm that they can do but there's a whole different category of harm that is the harm that comes from criminalizing a substance and I now believe after all the research I've done that the vast majority of harm that we see in our world today related to drugs is coming from criminalizing them not from the substances themselves we've actually seen this play out before during alcohol prohibition so in the 1920s we've promoted alcohol and we saw that not only did we have the harms of the substance being adjusted in people's bodies but we had new categories of harm that exploded out of criminalizing it the first kind of harm that comes from criminalizing a popular substance is harm in the market so during alcohol prohibition we went from having regulated taxed businesses in charge of alcohol to unregulated untaxed gangs and cartels so Al Capone is making millions while law-abiding businessmen close their doors the same thing is happening today in the drug market we had regulated legal text businesses we have transferred that market into the black market of gangs and cartels so we are not actually weakening gangs and cartels through criminalizing drugs we are funding them by providing five hundred billion dollars a year which is the size of the global industry and illegal drugs for them to fight over on our streets the second kind of harm that comes from criminalizing a popular substance is what happens to the substance itself during alcohol prohibition we went from having quality controlled alcohol Nichelle's to bootleg immediately when you prohibit a substance the potency of that substance increases you can see this played out at any Stadium today where alcohol is prohibited on the inside so outside where people are tailgating they're drinking beer inside where it's prohibited they're drinking hard liquor did their tastes change no the market forces changed and when you have to smuggle a substance you need it to be in the smallest package possible which means you have to up the potency to get the same effect the same thing is happening today with the drug market we went from having league regulated medicine transferred now into contaminated street drugs so we've seen that immediate potency increase we've also seen contamination if we look at what is actually happening with our current opioid epidemic and we take the numbers of people who died in 2017 forty-seven thousand six hundred people died of an opioid overdose in 2017 that is catastrophic seventy-five percent of them had either heroine or unregulated fentanyl in their systems we are not in a prescription regulated legal drug crisis we are in a heroin and fentanyl unregulated drug crisis that's why so many people are dying unfortunately our response to this has been to cut down on prescriptions it's almost like we're extending the drug war to a new category now legal drugs as well as illegal drugs and we're trying to just crack down so the problem goes away the problem is that when you decrease the supply of regulated drugs the black market happily comes in and supplies that market void with illegal unregulated far more dangerous substances and that's what's happening the harder that we crack down on legal prescriptions the more people are dying now the thought that most of us have is with but we just don't want people using those we just don't want them using opioids the choice that we have before us is do we want them using opioids under the care of a doctor or do we want them using opioids under the care of a drug dealer the third kind of harm that comes from criminalizing a popular substance its harm to the consumer there's something that you may not have known about alcohol prohibition is that it was never illegal to consume alcohol you were not put in jail just for having it or drinking it in your own home but we do that today with the drug war we have criminalized users so we went from treating people who use drugs and struggle with addiction as patients needing help we now treat them as criminals needing punishment just here in Mississippi we have over 3800 nonviolent drug offenders sitting in Sippi prisons today serving at least one year of prison sentence that cost mississippi taxpayers over sixty eight million dollars a year just to house nonviolent drug offenders in our prisons for a year but what's far more costly than the financial drain is the cost to a person's life from this approach so if we started with the drug use and even in a legal regulated market we still have to deal with the drug use all of our resources should be in this category decreasing the use of drugs but when we criminalize drugs we start a cycle now we have incarceration which is extremely traumatic for the person that we put in jail and for their family as they try to support that person and manage their family without them being there incarceration phrase the bonds between family members and the person in jail in their community sometimes those bonds are severed completely by the stress of incarceration when somebody comes out of prison they now have a criminal record but what we want them to do is provide for themselves and their families but a criminal record makes that really difficult crippling their job opportunities and often that is for life all of these things are really traumatic and research has repeatedly and conclusively shown that trauma is one of the highest risk factors for drug use in the first place and for addiction we are creating the risk for more drug use and deeper addiction by criminalizing it so we have spent decades of time we have spent over a trillion dollars using the criminal justice system for what is not a criminal issue we have destroyed the lives of millions of people who are either dead or dree plea deeply traumatized because of this criminal approach to drugs and drug use has not decreased so how do we change this we change it by changing our laws that happens when we change our minds that happens by those of us who have heard a better way inviting other people to consider a better way in one place that's done that is in Portugal in 2001 they had a terrible heroin crisis five times the rate of heroin use in Portugal at that time than even our current heroin crisis in the u.s. today they needed to do something drastic to curb their own overdose death rate and they took the biggest step that any country has taken in ending the drug war they decriminalized all drugs it's still not legal to produce or to sell drugs there but they address this third category of harm and they do not put users in jail anymore they went back to treating them as patients needing help again what was crucial to this plan success is that they also reallocated their drug intervention money so now Portugal spends 90 percent of their drug intervention money on prevention and treatment and only ten percent on enforcement so they launched a public huge public health initiative where they focused on how can we stop traumatizing people and instead help them build a life they want to be fully present for so they don't want to use drugs so to help them get jobs they help them get housing they help to build those community bonds they made treatment widely accessible to everybody who wanted it in the United States we do the exact opposite we spend 10% of our drug intervention money on prevention and treatment and 90% of it on enforcement so what happened in Portugal they done this for 17 years now since they've decriminalized drugs their injection drug use rate has been cut almost in half their drug addiction rate has been cut by a third and their drug-related crime rate is also massively down and their overdose death rate is now only six people per million citizens here in the US for a comparable population size of 1 million citizens it's a hundred and eighty five so for longer than I have been alive we have believed that you can't have drugs without also having a drug war that is the air we've breathed my whole life for decades it's not true we can stop all of the harm that's coming from criminalizing drugs and focus all of our resources into addressing the harms that come from the actual substances themselves this isn't easy to do it's not easy to change our minds it felt to me much more like an earthquake then it felt like a great adventure figuring out what I thought about this that's what it always feels like when something we have deeply believed for a long time gets challenged but that's what we have to be willing to face if we want to actually see better outcomes if we want more people to be alive more parents in the home raising their children more people employed and able to provide for their own families less crime in our communities this is what's at stake for us as we decide the way that we want to move forward legalization and regulation is not a perfect approach no approach will be perfect it's a realistic one it acknowledges that just like with alcohol and nicotine we have substances that are potentially harmful that are always going to be with us and we're going to handle them in a way that decreases the harm to people so if it sounds idealistic it's actually more realistic the drug war is based on an idealism that we can rid the earth of certain substances that no one on earth is ever going to want to use a drug and that the market will just disappear if we crack down hard enough we have done it for decades and it has backfired it's been a catastrophe so we need to embrace that there are substances that will always be here there are some people who will always want to use them just like with alcohol and nicotine and we need to focus all of our resources in educating people preventing them from using and becoming addicted and getting them treatment if they are so as I put all of this new information that I was learning over a long period of time into my current belief system and try to figure out okay so I supported the drug war because I thought it was helping people and now I see conclusively from evidence that it is creating a lot of harm what am I going to do with that can I change my mind while also keeping the values that I hold dear so I came back to what for me is a Christian and what for me as a conservative is a foundational unshakeable not going anywhere belief and that is in the absolute value of every human life every person matters every person has to be fought for every person must be protected so Joanne had harm in her life from her drug use she would readily admit that today she's been sober since the day that her son was born three years ago she works full-time with troubled youth she is a wonderful mother and friend that is not a guaranteed outcome it does not always happen that way but it can only happen that way because Joanne is not sitting in prison well her son grows up without his mother Nikki is a mom very much like Joanne a mom very much like me in fact the three of us only lived about ten minutes away from each other Nikki was also using drugs for part of her pregnancy and her son was also removed from her custody because of her prenatal drug use but Nikki was met with criminal charges for her prenatal drug use and today she's at the beginning of a 15-year prison sentence in North Mississippi her mom is raising her children when I called her mom to ask for permission to use their story in this presentation the first words out of her mouth or thank you for not forgetting us so Joanne and Nikki and many people like them changed my heart and research and evidence changed my mind I came to see that the war on drugs in reality is a war on people the war on children and families the war on communities I still believe people are responsible for the choices that they make but I'm responsible for how I respond to those choices and that moral weight falls on me and as I saw what was really happening with the drug war I couldn't support it anymore because my values don't support it I want to protect life I want to help people improve their lives I want to strengthen families I want strong communities more people working and as I put that together I began to realize there are lots of things I don't agree with either I think are bad for you or religiously I think are wrong or that are even illegal but it doesn't mean that I'm absolved from my responsibility for my response to that and that moral weight falls on me and it falls on us as a society with the kinds of laws were willing to support so we can either continue to try to pick up the pieces of the millions of lives that are being shattered as we speak by the drug war or we can stop shattering them in the first place this war had a beginning and it will have an end how long that takes and how many more families like Nicky's are caught up in that destruction that's up to us and that is what's before us to be part of the solution we can end this drug war let's end it for good thank you [Applause]

2 thoughts on “End the War on Drugs for Good | Christina Dent | TEDxJackson”

  1. Thank you for your testimony and walk with Christ that persuaded me to even consider if the war on drugs was a right response.

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