The state of New Hampshire is facing a drug epidemic crisis. No doubt about that. The epidemic is literally eating away at the social fabric of the Granite State. This past February NBC News reported that there were “roughly 400 drug-overdose related deaths” in the state last year, the most ever in the state’s history in a one-year period. Per capita, New Hampshire has the third-highest addiction rate in the nation, mostly involving heroin and fentanyl.
Historic Addition Rates and Overdoses Rock U.S
The state’s largest city, Manchester, has been hit the hardest. The city’s had 65 heroin overdose deaths during the first nine months of 2015, the Union Leader reported. The state’s attorney general is currently investigating roughly 40 drug overdose deaths in an effort to bring criminal charges against those responsible of providing the drugs that caused the overdoses.
New Hampshire is not alone, addiction to opiates, from prescription pain medication like OxyContin and fentanyl to the street drug heroine, is on the rise at an alarming rate. Nationwide, in 2015, nearly 2 million people had substance abuse problem involving pain medications and, in 2014, over 47,000 died of lethal drug overdoses. Experts expect these numbers to grow dramatically in 2016.
Politicians Seek PR with Tough on Drugs Legislation
Politicians, especially Republicans, have always operated under the mistaken notion that drug epidemics can be addressed through law enforcement “crack downs” and legislative enhancement of drug penalties. The nation now faces overcrowded prisons systems because of the so-called “war on drugs.” Nearly half of all the current federal inmates are convicted of drug offenses.
Senator Moves to Introduce Mandatory Minimums for Fentanyl
This past January, New Hampshire’s Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan signed drug-related legislation that increased the penalties for the illegal sale and distribution of fentanyl bringing it line with the penalties for the sale and distribution of heroin. New Hampshire’s Republican senator, Kelly Ayotte, has jumped on this political bandwagon, introducing federal legislation that would impose a mandatory minimum five-year prison term on people who manufacture, distribute or possess with intent to distribute at least a half a gram of fentanyl, reported the Concord Monitor earlier this month.
History Illustrates Mandatory Minimums are a Bad Idea
Sen. Ayotte apparently was inspired by the fact that fentanyl was involved in the drug overdose death of the singing idol Prince and is quickly becoming public enemy number one. This law-and-order conservative senator is apparently choosing to ignore history. It was the tragic cocaine drug overdose death of University of Maryland basketball star Len Bias in 1986 that led to the creation of a host of mandatory minimum sentences in drug cases that now has the nation trying to cope with mass incarceration strangling its state and federal prison systems.
New Mandatory Minimums Contrary to Bipartisan Moves for Sentencing Reforms
Currently there is a bipartisan effort in Congress to undo the disastrous impact of harsh mandatory minimum sentencing with the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015. Sen. Ayotte’s proposed legislation flies in the face of efforts by legislators, civil rights groups, public health experts, and criminal justice professionals who are trying to eliminate or seriously reform mandatory minimum sentencing in drug cases.
Nearly 100 organizations representing these collective interests have come out in vigorous opposition to Sen. Ayotte’s proposed fentanyl mandatory minimum expansion.
We Cannot Jail Our Way Out of Opiate Addiction
New Jersey Democratic Senator Corey Booker recently took to the Senate floor for 40 minutes to tell Sen. Ayotte and any other lawmakers who endorse her fentanyl proposal that the nation’s “opioid epidemic is not a problem we can jail our way out of.”
Michael Collins, Deputy Director of Drug Policy Alliance’s Office of National Affairs, responded to Sen. Ayotte’s fentanyl proposal this way:
“In a year where we are pushing hard to move criminal justice reform legislation, it is crazy that Republican leadership would allow a vote on such a toxic amendment. Top Republican Senators like John Cornyn, Chuck Grassley have committed themselves to passing a bill to reduce sentences for drug offenses. They should oppose this amendment, which would be a huge step in the wrong direction.”
“It would be shameful if the only reform that gets done in the Republican-led Senate is an increase in mandatory minimums for drug offenses, rather than a reduction,” Collins continued. “WE need to end – not expand – mass incarceration.”
Mandatory Minimums Crazy
We agree. If history teaches nothing else, it teaches that politicians cannot cure social ills with the nation’s criminal justice system. Increased mandatory minimum sentences for fentanyl will not prevent one fatal drug overdose or deter one person from manufacturing, distributing or selling the drug. It will, however, destroy the lives of many people addicted to these dangerous drugs, as well as the lives of their families, those who often suffer disproportionately from the impact of addiction and harsh mandatory minimums. That’s the reality here.