Last Thursday, the Biden-Harris administration released their drug policy priorities for Year One. While we commend the administration for their commitment to advancing racial equity research, expanding access to treatment, and mitigating employment discrimination, the priorities fail to provide adequate support to Young People Who Use Drugs (YPWUD) in this country.
While we support expanding access to treatment and reducing barriers to young people who are seeking treatment, there are no steps being taken to support YPWUD that do not want to and will not stop using drugs. The administration’s approach to youth drug use does not align with their explicit commitment to “promot[e] harm reduction efforts.”
Young people have feared and faced the consequences of punitive drug policies and shouldered the burden of caring for their peers who use drugs for far too long. Young leaders calling for drug policy reform recognize that simply using drugs is not problematic and that we can support the safe and prosperous futures of People Who Use Drugs (PWUD) without forcing them to stop as a pre-condition for compassion, care, and opportunity.
We cannot address the overdose and addiction crisis in this country through only treatment and abstinence-oriented education: we need a multi-faceted approach that genuinely encourages YPWUD to be honest, open, and sensible about their drug use. As long as our curricula in schools and in the community remain biased against young people and their drug use, young people will continue to not receive the care they desperately need. We know meaningful and effective drug education is centered on the prevention and reduction of the possible harms that come with drug use, not focused on the reduction of drug use.
Young people have the lived experience, information, and strategies to help create a comprehensive reality-based, and youth-centered drug policy approach. Young leaders have already initiated successful peer-to-peer drug education programs, have provided underground harm reduction support out of necessity, and have taken to their local, state, and federal governments to advocate for themselves and their peers who use drugs.
We are calling on the Biden-Harris administration to lean on the wisdom of youth leaders in the drug policy reform movement across the US and work with us to establish key strategies that will support YPWUD and remove barriers to their communities’ health and wellbeing.
If you would like to learn more about what SSDP’s federal policy priorities are, here is a one-page Executive Summary of the Federal Policy Agenda that includes our top asks for Congress through 2022. If you would like to get more involved with our federal policy work, please email email@example.com.