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Who is the enemy in the war on drugs?

Today’s blog is a guest appearance by Ross Hicks, harm reduction coordinator for Health Equity Alliance:

When politicians invoke the “War on Drugs” in response to current issues with opioids, I wonder what they mean by “war.” Who exactly are they fighting and with what arms? War implies an enemy.

For 40 years politicians have been battling against people in our communities, armed with policies that fail us. They are armed with policies that incarcerate and cast aside people who need treatment, policies that have led to a spending increase of 20 times in enforcement, increased the number of persons incarcerated from 474,000 in 1980 to over 2 million in 2001, and have had no impact on rates of drug use. They are armed with programs like DARE, which has been proven to have no significant impact on childhood drug use. They seem to enjoy positive press by exploiting the plight of people who use drugs, while doing nothing to address the pressing needs of their communities.

The same “law and order” politicians who claim to be working to address Maine’s substance use problem are working against initiatives that would increase access to treatment and care to help people recover. In the heat of battle, they have chosen not to provide treatment options, but rather to criminalize people who suffer from a serious medical condition. Politicians who vote against increasing access to naloxone, an opioid overdose reversal medicine that is proven to reduce overdose rates, have made a decision not to save lives. Where do we see the casualties in this war? Who is left to clean up the battlefield?

The next time a politician claims to be fighting the “War on Drugs” or uses scare tactics to influence your vote, remember that they are fighting a war against your neighbors, friends, and family. They are fighting a war against access to services. They are fighting a war against the health of our communities. They are fighting a war against us.

The Health Equity Alliance is a non-profit agency providing direct service and advocating on behalf of Maine’s LGBTQ+ community, people living with HIV/AIDS, and people who use drugs. Visit us online at or at our office locations in Bangor, Ellsworth, Augusta and Machias.

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