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Walker Out of Sync on Drug Treatment

Apr. 4, 2017
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Life was a lot simpler for Republicans back when they were free to launch an all-out, full-scale, scorched-earth War on Drugs without having to worry about their own kids or anybody else they knew getting wiped out as collateral damage. 

They didn’t do anything to reduce drug use and abuse in society, but they sure built a lot of prisons and filled them up, permanently destroying millions of lives primarily in poor, minority communities by creating widespread lifetime barriers to legitimate employment that go with prison records.

The original War on Drugs of Presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan was every conservative politician’s dream. It became the driving force behind the incarceration of massive numbers of African Americans and Latinos along with an occasional white jazz musician.

Those enormous racial disparities in incarceration were a handy excuse for denial of voting rights, job discrimination and continuing racial inequalities of all kinds. 

That is until sons and daughters in white communities began dying of heroin overdoses and opioid abuse. Sometimes, even the sons and daughters of white politicians. Suddenly, drug addiction was no longer just a convenient tool for political oppression. It became a full-fledged societal crisis! 

Here’s the thing, though. There’s absolutely no reason not to welcome that changing political attitude. Sure, it’s totally hypocritical. Sure, it shows how little the horrors experienced in poor, black neighborhoods matter to shallow, white politicians until those problems start affecting their own communities. 

Just because treatment instead of prison for drug addiction is long overdue doesn’t mean decent people everywhere shouldn’t encourage it. Start emptying out all of those prisons filled with non-violent drug offenders to save lives and lots of money.

Just how far many Republicans have come in joining the fight was demonstrated when one of the final death blows to the horrific Republican health care plan of Donald Trump and Paul Ryan was removing the requirement that insurance companies cover such “essential health services” as drug treatment.

Suburban Philadelphia Republican Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick, opposing the plan, said his top concern was “the impact on the single most important issue plaguing Bucks and Montgomery Counties, and the issue that I have made my priority in Congress: opioid abuse prevention, treatment and recovery.”


Other Governors Expanded Health Coverage 

The same issue was cited by many of the 31 governors, including Midwest Republicans John Kasich of Ohio and Rick Snyder of Michigan, who expanded Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act. They stood to lose billions of dollars and be forced to throw millions off Medicaid coverage under the Republican plan.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has always been out of sync with the majority of the nation’s governors by refusing to expand Medicaid coverage in his state even when it was covered 100% by federal funds under so-called Obamacare.

Instead, Walker revised his state’s BadgerCare plan to cover fewer poor people under Medicaid while costing state taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars more.

Walker didn’t want to co-operate with the Affordable Care Act during his short-lived, ill-fated run for the presidency, but the tortured logic he used publicly was to warn that someday some really bad people might take over the federal government and shut off federal funds to help people in Wisconsin.

And, of course, Walker turned out to be absolutely right. That’s the first thing Trump and Ryan tried to do. But it’s on the related issue of drug testing that Walker is really caught between the old Republican attitude of punishing people in black and Latino neighborhoods who use drugs and the new enlightened Republican support for providing assistance to white, middle-class families swept up in the “opioid epidemic.”

Walker’s making all the proper public noises, setting up a task force on opioid abuse, “an issue that affects people all across the state.” He’s also cynically seeking permission from the Trump administration to drug test poor people seeking Medicaid that bears a striking resemblance to the same sort of drug testing he’s advocated previously to justify denying food stamps and unemployment benefits to people desperately in need.  

Drug treatment is promised, but there doesn’t appear to be any serious new funding for drug treatment on demand for those who need it. My wife, Kit, ran a successful drug treatment program as an alternative to incarceration for women in Milwaukee County. I know how difficult it is to keep building on small successes to reduce the harm of drug addiction in people’s lives.

It’s much easier to set up for failure people who’ve never known much success in their lives. We need to keep a close eye on politicians whose primary concern is cutting government services by throwing people off programs that feed families, help them survive loss of employment and provide health care.

But, by all means, reverse the devastating public policy that imprisons people with drug addictions instead of providing health treatment.


Would white supremacists, neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan pose the same threat they do now if a mainstream Republican were president instead of Donald Trump?

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