If there’s one thing everyone should be able to agree on, it’s that the War on Drugs is not working.

Any way you look at it, our current strategy of dealing with the problem of chemical substance addiction is not working. Last year was the worst on record for overdose deaths in Maine, and that’s after decades of trying to arrest our way into good health. Five hundred and two overdose deaths in 2020. Five hundred and two. That would be like the entire town of Cutler wiped off the map and gone forever. Everyone from cops to abolitionists agrees that we need to do something differently.

But what exactly that something should be is where the conflicts arise.

I’m in favor of L.D. 967, a bill sponsored by state Rep. Anne Perry, D-Calais, a family nurse practitioner. It would change possession of illegal drugs from a criminal violation to a civil one, and require either a $100 fine or referral to an evidence-based drug treatment program. Selling or distributing drugs would still be a crime, but simply having, for example, heroin on your person would not result in getting arrested and imprisoned. It’s a simple step, but a bold one.

Gov. Mills is against this bill. I’m not surprised – she spent decades as a prosecutor, and while you can definitely teach an old dog new tricks, it usually takes a while. I like Janet Mills and I agree with her on a lot of things. I hope she changes her mind. Maine is a state that is resistant to sudden changes; we don’t turn on a dime. But if we want to put our money where our mouth is, not giving Mainers suffering from mental and physical illness a criminal record would be a very good place to start.

Americans like black-and-white morality; it’s one of the reasons superhero movies are so popular. If something is legal, then it is good; if it is illegal, then it is bad. Addiction complicates these narratives. Chemical substances are classified as “illegal” and “legal” based on varying degrees of arbitrariness, and then we place moral values on them. Take marijuana – illegal most places until very recently, even though nobody has ever died of a marijuana overdose.

But alcohol? You can buy it at the gas station and, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is either entirely or partially responsible for 261 deaths per day in this country. (That would be like the entire population of the town of Medford.)

Getting and remaining sober is, so far, the toughest thing I’ve ever done. Going to jail would not have helped me stay sober. Having a criminal record, which could easily tank future employment prospects, would not have helped me stay sober. But I had the good luck to end up addicted to a legal substance. Cops generally won’t arrest you for having a couple of nips of Fireball in your purse. But for someone with a predisposition to addiction – someone like me – all it would have taken for me to end up with heroin in my purse would be the wrong prescription pill at the wrong time.

It’s hard to get them to admit it, even to themselves, but people often think of me as one of “the good ones.” A “good addict.” In part, this is because of my writing abilities (which are not too shabby, if I do say so myself) – I think I do a good job of communicating just how hard it is to struggle with addiction and how much work it takes to maintain sobriety.

And if you’ve read my column for more than a week or two, you’ve probably gotten a good view of various parts of my life, not just the worst part. You’re more likely to see me as a whole and complex human being. My only hope in writing about my issues with addiction is that people will take some of the empathy they feel toward me and apply it to others who are struggling, and who don’t have the blessing of a newspaper column and a knack with the written word. There are no good addicts or bad addicts. There are only addicts.

In two weeks, on June 1, I will celebrate my third year of sobriety. I suspect I will receive congratulations on the accomplishment. While I’m proud of what I’ve done for myself, the effort is, and remains, a team effort; and in lieu of congratulations, please consider writing to your state representative and senator and to Gov. Mills and ask them to support passing L.D. 967.

Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at:
[email protected]
Twitter: @mainemillennial


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