On Tuesday, Senator Joe Manchin discussed what to do about the nation's drug problem with CNN's Jake Tapper:
Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin called for a new "war on drugs" Tuesday to combat the opioid crisis striking his state of West Virginia, eagerly adopting the language of the now much-criticized Nixon-era push to curb illicit substance use.
"We need to declare a war on drugs," Manchin told CNN's Jake Tapper on "The Lead" when asked what President-elect Donald Trump should do to combat the situation.
Manchin not only adopted Nixon's rhetoric, he also included the now widely-discredited rationale of the 1970s:
Drug users “started out as a kid, you know, smoking occasional recreational marijuana and then that led in to prescriptions taken out of their parents’ or grandparents’ medicine cabinet and become a ‘cool kid’ and before you know it, it turned into where they just were hooked,” Manchin added, claiming to describe the cycle of a drug abuser.
“Heroin comes on. . . . Now, we have the fentanyl coming on and it’s just been unbelievable,” he said.
And so for Manchin it doesn't matter that the war on drugs has been a huge multi-billion dollar failure or that Nixon's original intentions had more to do with winning white voters by stigmatizing the black community as John Ehrlichman admitted earlier this year. Nor does Manchin mention the role that the drug companies and the drug distributors have played in all of this. (For an in-depth explanation of the problems caused by drug company wholesalers in West Virginia, please read Eric Eyre's well-documented investigative report in Sunday's Charleston Gazette-Mail -- it's excellent.)
What do the experts say? Earlier today, the Huffington Post talked to a number of them about Manchin's proposal. Their reaction was not positive:
“A drug war is not the answer,” said John Hudak, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who writes extensively on drug policy. “Empty rhetoric that is insensitive to historical drug policy realities is not the answer. Comprehensive, thoughtful, public health-driven national reforms are the answer.”
Lindsay LaSalle, senior staff attorney for Drug Policy Alliance said a new drug war would only “doom the residents” Manchin represents to further death and despair.
“Indeed, criminalization actually amplifies the risk of fatal overdoses and diseases, increases stigma and marginalization, and drives people away from needed treatment, health, and harm reduction services,” LaSalle said. “Forty years of failed prohibitionist policies have taught us this much.”
West Virginia's drug problem is very real -- I just wish that West Virginia's senior senator would suggest something beyond a failed policy from the 1970s.