Letters: Treatment vs. Incarceration Is a ‘False Choice’

Readers discuss how to help victims of the opioid crisis—and how to end the epidemic.

Jeremy Raff

A Narcotics Officer Ends His War on Drugs

As a narcotics cop, Kevin Simmers locked up hundreds of drug users. In Jeremy Raff’s documentary and the accompanying article he published in November, Simmers explained how his ideology on drug treatment and punishment changed when his 18-year-old daughter became addicted to opioids: “I now think the whole drug war is total bullshit,” Simmers said.

This article was informative and deeply touching for several reasons. I used to live in Hagerstown, and I remember Kevin Simmers. I’m grieved to learn of his loss and offer to him my deepest condolences. When the YMCA was located downtown, we played basketball there two to three times a week for years in what was known as the “Lunch Bunch.” I was involved in the trafficking of illicit drugs and when the Feds from New Jersey came to apprehend me, Kevin was involved as a member of the local drug task force. Now my own daughter is addicted to opioids and I’m praying, hoping, searching for something that will help her.

Ray Archie
Killeen, Texas

The article “A Narcotics Officer Ends His War on Drugs” offers a false choice: treatment versus incarceration. I’m a doctor who specializes in treating drug addicts. I use medication-assisted treatment, but the No. 1 reason my heroin-addicted patients come for help is the fear of going to jail. Drug courts are one of the most successful programs for hard-core addicts, and they work because the threat of jail gets cooperation from addicts who otherwise wouldn’t care about treatment. Most addicts and alcoholics don’t want to quit, but if we use the threat of jail to get them into treatment and keep them there, many of them gradually realize that living clean and sober is far preferable. This is happening all across the country. The pro-legalization forces want Americans to believe tough drug laws work against treatment, and this story pushes that false message. We need tough drug laws not to punish but to convince addicts to get the help they need.

Tough drug laws as a means of getting addicts into treatment and keeping them there are the best hope for helping the nation’s huge number of heroin addicts.

Ed Gogek, M.D.
Prescott, Ariz.

My family lives near the border between Baja California and California. Officer Simmers knows what we all know: As long as drugs are illegal, we force users into deadly situations, and innocent people die daily either at the hands of the cartel or at the tendrils of addiction. Of course, as soon as the drugs are legal, all of the usual profit takers line up for the dollars: corporations and politicians. I believe in capitalism, but the war is lost. Legalize the drugs and move forward. We will never end these stories, but drug legalization may reduce the stigma and alleviate some of the guilt and pain. Thank you to Brooke and her family.

Brenda J. Martin
San Diego, Calif.

Opioids hit home, but the ramifications of the drug war are felt every day in narco-terrorized regions south of the U.S. border. Prohibition causes more death than the prohibited substances. Why can’t we manage drug use like a symptom that should be harm minimized? Drugs should be controlled completely without capitalistic actors selling them. As ridiculous as it may seem, the only way to really control a substance is to be the only seller of it, and that means our government should monopolize the sale of these controlled substances in a way to reduce their usage and minimize their harm while denying black-market money going to cruel and cunning capitalistic actors. The Drug Enforcement Administration should sell all controlled substances as a non-capitalistic agent and work with scientists, doctors, and treatment professionals to ensure people who use controlled substances do so as little as possible, through direct price control and professional treatment programs.

James Kim
Los Angeles, Calif.

Sergeant Kevin Simmers has suffered a terrible loss in the overdose death of his daughter, and as a father my heart goes out to him. I also commend him for being brave enough to reflect on his part in the completely misguided and unjust War on Drugs.

That said, it cannot go unnoticed that Mr. Simmers (at least by the details presented in the story) failed to recognize the very real damage that his police work did to others—specifically African Americans—until tragedy visited his life.

Nearly 50 years of the War on Drugs and we have accomplished nothing. The effort was never meant to “help” anyone, but rather to utilize a new tool in ruling over the poor and the nonwhite.

I sincerely hope that Mr. Simmers continues to speak out about the damage of the drug war, with some emphasis on the falsehoods used to justify it in the first place.

Joshua C. Powers
Lawrence, Kan.