AG Jeff Sessions Talks Addiction Crisis At Awareness Summit

By Britni de la Cretaz 03/09/17

Sessions pushed prevention and education as possible solutions for the addiction epidemic.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions
Photo via YouTube

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions made a surprise visit to an opioid awareness summit for middle- and high-school students in New Hampshire earlier this week. Drawing on his experience as a federal prosecutor in the 1980s, Sessions shared what he saw as a solution to the addiction epidemic—prevention, education, and targeting drug gangs.

Sessions told the audience of young people that heroin and other drug use had been high in the 1980s, but as a result of prevention and education services, "drug use was no longer cool and acceptable. Crime fell and addiction fell."

However, a look at the numbers of people incarcerated for drug offenses during that time, particularly after the 1986 and 1994 Crime Bills, indicate that is not the case.

"We can turn the tide against drugs and addiction again in America just like we did previously," he told the crowd. "We have proven that education and telling people the truth about drugs and addiction will result in better choices. Drug use will fall. Lives will be saved."

It is unclear what prevention and education programs Sessions is referring to; in the 1980s and 1990s, the most popular campaigns were Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign and the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) curriculum in schools. Both those programs were shown to not only be ineffective, but to potentially increase drug use among teens.

The initial D.A.R.E. program was started by the Los Angeles Police Department in 1993 and has been placed in thousands of U.S. school districts. The program involves uniformed police officers going into schools to emphasize the dangers of drugs.

According to Scientific American, the new D.A.R.E. program, "keepin' it REAL," was created with the help of prevention scientists and has replaced the old, problematic mission with a new curriculum that focuses on teaching students good decision-making skills. The program also covers how to deal with bullying, internet safety and violence. 

While the D.A.R.E. program is said to have corrected its course, Nancy Reagan and the anti-drug “Just Say No” have left a major negative impact on the lives of many. The anti-drug campaign's use of fear-mongering to support the criminalization of drug use, that many of her husband’s policies implemented, has disproportionately affected Black and brown Americans, according to The Guardian

These same criminalization laws—which have been classified by the UN to be policy failures at all levels—are the ones that Sessions promised New Hampshire youth that the Trump administration would pursue.

"Less money will be going into cartels and the drugs gangs, weakening them … Criminal enforcement is essential to stopping the transnational organizations which ship drugs into our country in huge amounts and to stop the thugs and gangs who use violence and extortion to move their products," he said.

Sessions empathized with families whose loved ones struggle with addiction. "For many, addiction can be a death sentence. I've seen families spend all their saving and retirement money on treatment programs to try to help their children just to see sometimes those programs fail," he said. "It is so heartbreaking."

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Britni de la Cretaz is a freelance writer, baseball enthusiast, and recovered alcoholic living in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @britnidlc.