Punishing those with addictions

June 24, 2008

I'M A clinician at a methadone clinic--a place that helps people addicted to heroin and other opiates get their lives together. I've been a regular reader of Socialist Worker for many years and have fond memories of selling the print edition in Harvard Square as a college student.

People with opiate addictions face especially harsh oppression under the capitalist system. Whereas most working-class people are oppressed by virtue of race or class, people with addictions have an added oppression of stigma and legal problems due to public misunderstanding of addiction as well as the substances of abuse being illegal.

Remember Prohibition? That didn't work. Neither do laws prohibiting drugs such as heroin.

Oppression of my opiate-addicted patients goes off the charts. Very often, their addictions stem from childhood trauma--sexual, verbal and physical abuse by parents or guardians who also in turn are oppressed by capitalism's low wages, few educational opportunities and lack of adequate social services.

Also, many people with opiate addictions have criminal histories, which make it difficult or impossible for them to access decent jobs, housing or educational loans. In essence, the system turns my patients into second-class citizens.

Meanwhile, the prison-industrial complex continues to reap billions of dollars in profits. And from who? Murderers and rapists? Some yes, but more overwhelmingly, prisoners who are incarcerated on drug charges.

Lack of health insurance also makes access to adequate treatment difficult for many opiate-addicted individuals. The weekly cost of treatment in Massachusetts is about $133. Lack of insurance means patients have to pay out of pocket. Add to that the unconscionable cost of transportation, with gasoline at $4 a gallon, and treatment becomes quite unaffordable for many people.

So those people turn to crime and drugs once again, wind up in the prison-industrial complex, and the wheels of the profit bus go round and round. It's time for radical change in this country--for my patients and for oppressed people in general.
Bruce Burleson, Brockton, Mass.

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