Policymakers have responded to the overdose crisis with a rhetorical emphasis on “treatment instead of incarceration,” leading journalists to comment that we are in the midst of a “gentler war on drugs.” However, despite a change in discourse, draconian policies have persisted and in many cases been expanded. This is exemplified by many lawmakers’ reaction to fentanyl and other analog drugs, both on the state and federal level.
Legislators have dusted off the drug war playbook and proposed a variety of new punitive measures including new mandatory minimum sentences, homicide charges, involuntary commitment, expanded powers for prosecutors and more. These efforts repeat the mistakes that epitomize the failed war on drugs, while undermining efforts to reform our criminal justice system and pursue a public health approach to drug use. Indeed, such proposals risk compounding the overdose crisis.
We need to oppose harsh fentanyl penalties: