We have seen unprecedented rates of incarceration and overdose over the past 40 years. Our healthcare costs have skyrocketed and Substance Use Disorder (SUD) is now the #1 cause of death for people under 30, and quickly on the way to becoming the #1 cause of death for all Americans. How did we get here? Where do we go now? These are the questions I have dedicated my legal career to and it was why I was so excited to join the Romano Law Group. The Romano Law Group has expressed immense support for this work and we are working towards societal solutions through litigation and policy reform. It is an honor for me to join such fearless, open-minded, and compassionate trial attorneys and staff as we move forward into this cutting-edge area of law. We are in the Wild West of Law & Policy on many of these issues as they are uncharted waters. We will set precedent. We will touch lives. And hopefully, we will carve a path for new leaders to join us as we march forward.
This country has had a Drug War since the end of the 1960’s. This War has created a Prison Industrial Complex, a New Jim Crow, new strategies for international terrorism, and a healthcare epidemic like the world has never known. Prison populations have risen over 700% in the last 40 years with over 60% of offenders suffering from substance use disorder. Many individuals return to prison within 3 years and most of these for non-violent technical violations such as failed urine drug screens or simple possession. Possession of a controlled substance will land you a life-long felony conviction, which has collateral consequences preventing one from re-integrating into society. Some of these consequences include not being able to vote, no access to federal funding for education, housing, or employment. These are the very things an individual needs most when trying to re-enter their communities.
Private prisons operate as publicly traded corporations, guaranteeing their stockholders minimum rates of incarceration and contracting with state entities accordingly. They have learned that if you take an individual suffering from SUD, put them in a cage with no treatment, and take away their ability to re-enter society; it almost guarantees repeat business. It incentivizes the deprivation of liberty when we need to be emphasizing rehabilitation. This has led to widespread corruption with political bribes and kickbacks in exchange for governmental contracts, all at the expense of a person who suffers from a DSM-V diagnosed disorder. The very idea that we can label it a disease on one hand while locking someone up for it on the other shocks the conscience. It hardly seems just for someone to be labeled a felon for possessing the substance that is a symptom of their disorder.
My mentor, Susan Ramsey and I met with Vice News recently to participate in a global documentary on this subject. They were visiting other countries after they left Palm Beach County to investigate attempts to solve this problem. In 2001, Portugal decriminalized all drugs. We have not seen the sky fall and no one is stumbling over human pin cushions as they walk the streets. Quite the opposite. Portugal now treats SUD as a social and public health issue. Rates of addiction and drug related crime have plummeted as individuals are sent to social workers for services instead of jail cells for incapacitation.
From Portugal, they were headed to the Philippines to expose the atrocities and human rights violations being committed against those with SUD. Rodrigo Duterte took power in 2016 and has begun to systematically exterminate human beings with extrajudicial, or no judicial process. Much like Hitler, Duterte believes that by snuffing out entire segments of his own citizens he will produce social and economic benefits for the nation. This has resulted in vigilante attacks and police engaging in large-scale sweeps to round up “addicts.” There has been an outcry from Recovery Advocates and international human rights groups because of his de facto endorsement of extrajudicial killings, under the auspices of the “Davao Death Squad.” SUD sufferers are a stigmatized group, and stigmatized groups always have difficulty gaining political support for the defense of their rights.
The global pendulum swings widely as we try to deal with one of the world’s oldest social problems. The idea of decriminalization may be a stretch for America at this moment, but we should vehemently investigate the possibility of reducing the criminal penalty from a felony to a misdemeanor with incarceration and a criminal record as a last resort. The fact that marijuana is still a Schedule 1 substance at the federal level flies in the face of federalism and the ability of the individual states to determine what is best for their citizens. It also has collateral consequences on our economy at national and international levels.
The purpose of this continuing blog will be to identify certain policy and legal issues both locally and on a national level that we at Romano Law Group will specifically be targeting. These will include the Opiate Epidemic Litigation (specifically Neo-Natal Abstinence Syndrome), the international terrorism component that exploits our nation’s astronomical rates of addiction, the unscrupulous actors within the treatment industry which have spurred the need for a Sober Home Task Force here in South Florida, and finally the macro-social effects of the War on Drugs and its nauseating effects on our Criminal Justice System as a whole. It’s time to move away from a system of cages to a system of care before we lose an entire generation to this gargantuan societal juggernaut.
By Joshua Horton, Esq.
Here is a TedTalk Joshua did in February that describes criminal justice reform and Southern Recovery Advocacy as a Recovery Community Organization.
Here is a link to an article that was done in Atlanta.
Here is a link to Josh's academic journal that was just published in the #2 peer reviewed criminal law journal in the country.
Appointed to Governor’s Opiate Task Force
University Publication on Opiate Epidemic