By Margaret Dooley-Sammuli | Published in California Progress Report
My husband and I will welcome our first child at the end of this month. It’s a very exciting time – one filled with hopes for who our child will be and trepidation at what he will face in life.
There are all the usual questions: will he be healthy? Will he be smart? Who will he grow up to be?
And then there’s the concern that sometimes sneaks up on me when I least expect it: will he develop an alcohol or drug problem?
I’m not sure how many other moms-to-be have the same worry, but I doubt I’m alone.
About 7.8 million Americans are in need of drug treatment, according to the 2009 U.S. National Survey of Drug Use and Health. And all of them belong to families – like mine.
My family is full of wonderful people. It just so happens that some of them have struggled with alcohol or drugs and with depression.
In my parents’ and grandparents’ generations, it was alcohol. In my generation, family members have struggled with other drugs (both prescription and illicit) as much as with alcohol.
I have no doubt that my son will be a wonderful person, too – whether or not he develops an alcohol or drug problem at some point in his life. I do have doubts, though, about whether he’ll be able to get the help he might need and be treated with the dignity that he will deserve.
Besides being my first, there’s something else noteworthy about this particular Mothers Day. It’s almost exactly four decades since President Nixon called drugs “public enemy number one” and ramped up the drug war that has made the U.S. the world’s top incarcerator. The U.S. now incarcerates about as many people for drug law violations as all of Western Europe locks up for everything.
At the same time, our country’s drug policy still fails to address our loved ones’ drug problems. Even under President Obama, funding for drug treatment is just a fraction of what it should be – and a tiny amount compared to what is spent on arrests, prosecution and incarceration. Preventable drug overdose is now the second-leading cause of accidental death in the US, after car accidents.
Just as I’ve worked hard during this pregnancy to get my baby off to a good start, I will do everything I can to keep him healthy and to give him the tools he’ll need to make good decisions. Despite how hard I’ll try, I know that I may not be able to prevent him from developing an alcohol or drug problem. But I just might be able to help change U.S. drug policies so that they stop emphasizing stigmatization and exclusion – and put health and dignity first.
That’s why I have joined with other mothers to end the war on drugs. Just as moms played a crucial role in ending alcohol Prohibition, we can do it again. Forty years after Nixon’s war on drugs, it’s time to say enough is enough. It’s time to end this destructive prohibition that has devastated too many families. We owe it to our very young and future children.
Margaret Dooley-Sammuli is a member of Moms United to End the War on Drugs, a national collaborative effort to change our current punitive policies of arrest and imprisonment to health-oriented and therapeutic strategies, and is deputy state director in Southern California for the Drug Policy Alliance.