Death Penalty for Drug Pushers: Killing Broken Americans

      Admittedly, I’ve checked into rehab a whopping seven times and spent hundreds of hours sipping strong coffee and sitting in the folding chairs of various Narcotics Anonymous meetings. In that time, I met hundreds of interesting people, some brilliant, some broken, some with sweet souls and big dreams. All of those people had one thing in common – they were severely addicted to narcotics. I met teenagers who wandered into a meeting one day because they were tired of hurting their family and going to jail. I met convicted felons who had come to their first meeting because it was mandated by the courts, but twenty years later, there they were, regularly attending meetings and organizing the annual NA Christmas party. When I saw the headlines this past week that read, “Trump Calls For Death Penalty For Drug Pushers” it wasn’t El Chapo that came to mind, it was all of the people I have known from my years in recovery, many of which sold narcotics to support their own habits, but now live meaningful lives as productive members to society. Naturally, my heart broke and my soul raged. 

      I imagine it’s easy for a man like Donald Trump, who doesn’t occasionally enjoy an alcoholic beverage and believes the solution to our opioid epidemic lies in the logic that if people never try drugs, they’ll never get addicted, to think he has all the answers. Jeff Sessions issued a memo to federal prosecutors Wednesday that “Drug traffickers, transnational criminal organizations, and violent street gangs all contribute substantially to this scourge." I couldn’t help but wonder about my nineteen-year-old friend from rehab who started injecting and then selling heroin after his mom died when he was just fourteen years old. He had already earned his one-year chip by his nineteenth birthday and was considered a leader in the meetings. Would Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions have pushed for his execution too? I couldn’t help but wonder about all of the doctors that prescribe opiates to people in pain. People who are completely naïve as to what they are getting themselves into. When I ruptured a disk in my back as the result of a teenage romance gone horribly wrong, my doctor prescribed me Vicodin for the pain and Xanax for the subsequent anxiety. He failed to mention that taking opiates regularly for stretches of time surpassing a couple weeks, leads to physical dependency and alters the chemicals in your brain. I was just seventeen years old. What about that doctor? Will Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions push for his execution? I can’t help but wonder if Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions will get tough on inner-city drug pushers but lenient with rural Middle America drug pushers. What makes one drug pusher deserve death over another?

      When even the most powerful politicians in the world are making decisions impacted by the stigma of addiction and their own unwillingness to educate themselves to the contrary, the hope for tomorrow begins to dissipate. It is the human condition that leads people to become addicted to drugs and it is humanity that will treat it. Addicts are broken. Rather than throw them away, invest in them. Treating addicts is the best solution and a one size treatment does not fit all. Twelve-step meetings have changed the lives of thousands, but they aren’t the answer for everyone. Medication-assisted treatment is revolutionizing the way that addicts are able to rebuild their lives and reach their potential. Maybe put your eggs in that basket President Trump. While it may be easy to assume that drug dealers are members of violent gangs and transnational criminals, we have to start grasping that this epidemic no longer belongs to a categorized population; it belongs to all of us. People are suffering from addiction and selling drugs to support their habits and avoid debilitating withdrawal and those people are American teenagers, American mothers and fathers, and our suburban neighbors. Addicts are suffering. Rather than shoot them down, offer an open heart and outstretched hand.

OpinionEmily Sullivan