August 31 is Overdose Awareness Day. It is a time to remember those who have died and those who live with permanent injuries from overdose.
There are several lofty goals for this day of remembrance: Overcoming the stigma associated with drug use and addiction; allowing people to mourn publicly, without the guilt and shame so prevalent among survivors of overdose; and educating the public about the issue.
According to the Drug Policy Alliance, deaths from accidental overdose in Texas increased by more than 150 percent (from 790 to 1,987) during the eight-year period ending in 2007. Overdose is the third leading cause of injury-related deaths. Only car crashes and suicide claim more lives.
Drug use is harmful. However, Overdose Awareness Day is a harsh reminder that the failure to adopt harm reduction strategies leaves Texas behind, wedded to drug laws that exponentially increase the harms caused by drug use. Think about it this way: About 75 percent of all drug users are employed, supporting their families and functioning as productive members of society. If a drug user should succumb to addiction, recovery can be a real possibility with access to treatment and family and community support. But, if the Criminal Justice System should enter the picture and pile on with a felony conviction, a once productive citizen may find himself in a situation from which it is almost impossible to recover.
Employment becomes virtually unattainable. Access to public housing and food stamps is prohibited. Federal student aid is available to convicted felons of all stripes, with one exception: felony drug offenders may be ineligible for such funds. And African Americans and Hispanics are over-represented among felony drug offenders—not because they are more likely to use drugs, but because they are more likely to live in communities targeted for enforcement of drug laws.
Surprisingly, the typical overdose victim is not an illegal drug user. All the heroine, crack and powder cocaine deaths combined are exceeded by those attributed to prescription drugs, such as oxycodone, hydrocodone and Xanax. And this trend holds both statewide and nationally. The problem is particularly pronounced in Houston, where prescription drugs were identified in half of all accidental overdose deaths from 2005 to 2009.
One of the most unfortunate misconceptions surrounding drug use is that addiction is a moral failure, when in fact, addiction is a disease. But the continued allegiance to failed drug policies prevents access to life-saving measures by those suffering from this disease.
Why are needle exchange programs illegal in Texas? Research shows such programs reduce substantially the incidence of HIV-Aids and other blood borne disease, preventing human suffering and saving tax dollars.
Why is it illegal for parents and caregivers of addicted persons to obtain Naloxone, a life-saving antidote to overdose?
And why do we persist in placing the opportunity to punish ahead of the opportunity to save a human life by refusing to grant limited immunity to individuals seeking emergency assistance for overdose victims?
Unfortunately, attaining the aims of National Overdose Awareness Day will remain especially difficult in a state where “harm reduction” and Naloxone have yet to take their rightful place in the drug policy lexicon. Still, compassion and fiscal prudence demand a public health approach to drug use and addiction, and an end to the failed policies that have reigned in the state far too long.
Joy Strickland Founder and CEO of Mothers Against Teen Violence in Dallas, Texas
Moms United To End the Drug War
As a mother, I have had a close encounter with prohibition violence. My son was killed with a friend in a random crime committed by two juveniles involved in gang activity and illegal drug use. During our first fourteen years, Mothers Against Teen Violence worked valiantly, implementing school-based prevention and mentoring programs. But an NPR interview with Judge James P. Gray of Orange County, California three years ago, convinced me that MATV should be actively engaged in ending the drug war. Subsequently, we began the process of rebranding our organization, developing a three point plan for drug policy reform.
The first tenet of our plan is effective prevention targeting children and teens. Our youth need age appropriate information based on science so that they can make good choices about drugs; and they need parents that model responsible use of recreational and prescription drugs.
Secondly, we believe that a public health approach to drug use and addiction is preferable to punitive measures. Understanding that drug trafficking is a supply and demand problem, all drug policies should be re-evaluated to determine the impact on the supply or demand for drugs. That said, our best hope at reducing demand is to help people resolve the underlying issues that cause them to abuse drugs. Addiction is a disease, not a moral failure. Many drug abusers have suffered sexual abuse or other trauma. When we punish people for their addiction, often we are punishing them for being victims. Rehabilitation on demand is not only compassionate and cost effective, compared to incarceration, but also improves public safety.
And finally, we believe the time has come to end the racial disparity and encroachment on civil liberties that have been the hallmark of the drug war. All races use illegal drugs at remarkably similar rates. In fact, young white males are more likely to use and sell drugs than any other segment of the population. However, 74% of those incarcerated for drug related crimes are African Americans even though they make up only 13% of the population.
This Mother’s Day, in an act of courage and commitment, moms across America will launch a new national campaign aimed at ending the drug war. Moms United to End the War on Drugs will follow the model fashioned by moms in the 1930’s who led the successful fight to end Alcohol Prohibition.
We all want safer communities, but the drug war has not made our communities safer, helped people with addiction, or saved lives. Like Alcohol Prohibition, the drug war has led to gang violence and an overdose epidemic. Thanks to the drug war, America is the home of the largest prison system in world history. I am delighted to be part of a campaign focused on healing and ending forty years of a failed policy.
Joy Strickland is CEO of Mothers Against Teen Violence, Inc. www.matvinc.org
MOTHERS AGAINST TEEN VIOLENCE Presents First Forum of its Kind in North Texas
(Dallas, TX) - MOTHERS AGAINST TEEN VIOLENCE will present “The War on Drugs—Connecting the Dots”, a drug policy forum designed to help attendees understand how the issues they care most about are impacted by the drug war. This first forum will serve as a blueprint for similar events to be held throughout the state.
The event is hosted by the Outreach and Witness Ministries at St. Luke Community United Methodist Church where Rev. Tyrone Gordon serves as Senior Pastor.
Forum presenters include Dr. W. Marvin Dulaney, author and Associate Professor of History at the University of Texas at Arlington; Alan Bean, executive director of Friends of Justice and author of Taking Out the Trash in Tulia, Texas; and Joy Strickland, author, founder and CEO of MATV.
Event details are as follows:
Saturday, April 30th 10AM until 2PM
Community Life Center at St. Luke Community United Methodist Church 6211 E. Grand Ave. Dallas, TX 75223 Registration $6 (includes lunch)
MATV CEO Joy Strickland says, “Drug policy is directly connected to education funding, the high dropout rate, poverty, homelessness and other important issues. Our forums are designed to help concerned citizens connect the dots and create a critical mass for change.”
MATV is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt nonprofit organization committed to rethinking drug policy in Texas. The organization was founded in 1994 following the slayings of Chris Lewis and his friend, Kendrick Lott, in a random crime committed by two juvenile delinquents under the influence of illegal drugs. Chris Lewis graduated from St. Mark’s School of Texas and was a Morehouse College freshman. His mom, Joy Strickland, is MATV’s founder and CEO. The organization is based in Dallas, Texas. MATV is a 2010 Open Society Institute grant recipient.
New Inspirational Book by Activist, Nonprofit Leader Joy in the Morning—A Mother’s Journey from Tragedy to Triumph
(Dallas, TX) – Chris Lewis met Kendrick Lott back in the summer of 1993. The two struck up an instant friendship because Chris was a freshman at the same school that Kendrick planned to attend. But instead of becoming Morehouse brothers, the two died together, brutally slain by two drugged out gang-bangers looking for someone to carjack.
Chris was Joy Strickland’s son and Joy in the Morning is her inspirational book of unspeakable tragedy, healing and profound change. Joy in the Morning is a valiant contribution to the field of grief memoirs, for here is that rare title written by the mother of a murdered child. Strickland punctuates her story with her original poetry and her reflections are the perfect complement, giving her book depth and texture.
“I have written this book believing that my experience will encourage and inspire others to see their challenges as an opportunity for personal transformation,” says Strickland. “I believe that healing and wholeness are accessible to us all; that joy is our divine right; and sharing this message is an important part of my life’s purpose.”
About the Author. A staunch advocate for teen violence prevention, Joy Strickland has received a bevy of awards and accolades. Her advocacy and commitment have been featured in USA Today; on CNN and CNN Headline News; on USA Radio; in the Dallas Morning News and other media.
Strickland is a native Texan who grew up in Dallas and attended Dallas public schools. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics with a double minor in English and German from The University of Texas at Austin. She joined the IBM Corporation immediately upon graduation and received numerous awards during her seventeen-year career as a computer programmer and marketing executive.
Responding to her tragedy, Strickland founded Mothers Against Teen Violence (MATV) and has led the organization for fourteen years. For more information about MATV go to www.matvinc.org.
MOTHERS AGAINST TEEN VIOLENCE Announces New Direction for Violence Prevention
(Dallas, TX) -- For sixteen years MOTHERS AGAINST TEEN VIOLENCE has been a community-based, direct services organization engaged in violence prevention. The organization’s new strategy is to engage in public information and advocacy for drug policy reform. Their service area will expand to a statewide focus.
MATV will outline their new strategy and respond to questions at a press conference:
Thursday, January 14, 2010, 10 a.m. Sheraton Dallas Hotel, State Room 1, 3rd Floor (Convention Center) 400 N. Olive St. Dallas, TX 75201
MATV CEO Joy Strickland says, “Drug policy is fairly complex. One of our most important challenges will be to develop a language and a narrative compelling enough to attract those demographics that have suffered most from our current drug policy, and empower them to work for change.”
The press conference will immediately precede the organization’s Tenth Annual MLK Awards Luncheon, which will also take place at the Sheraton Dallas. This year’s Humanitarian Award will be presented to James P. Gray, former Superior Judge of Orange County, CA and author of How Our Drug Laws Have Failed and What We Can Do About It. Judge Gray will take part in the press conference.
The Luncheon will be hosted by Willis Johnson of KKDA Radio. Royce West, State Senator, District 23, is the Honorary Chair.
MATV is a 501(c) (3) tax-exempt nonprofit organization committed to resilient teens, empowered parents, and strong communities. MATV was founded in 1994 following the slayings of Chris Lewis and his friend, Kendrick Lott, in Dallas. Chris Lewis graduated from St. Mark’s School of Texas and was on summer break from his freshman year at Morehouse College. His mom, Joy Strickland, is MATV’s founder and CEO. The organization is located at 2904 Floyd Street, Suite F in the Wilson Historic District of Dallas, TX.
Our drug policy is a problem. Can’t we talk about it? MATV’s Drug Policy Discussion groups facilitate the exchange of information and encourage individuals to develop informed opinions about the issue.Contact Us for meeting dates and times.
House Party with a Purpose
MATV’s house parties are a fun-filled way to get people together and learn about drug policy. Guests not only have a good time, but they also appreciate receiving valuable information about an issue that seldom receives balanced coverage in the media. There is no hard selling. We offer “opportunities” and privileges”. We also play a game that graphically illustrates the impact of the drug war on certain communities. And party guests respond enthusiastically.
The host invites guests, and serves light refreshments…We do the rest.
If you would like to host a house party, click on Contact Us and let us know.
MATV’s three drug policy councils focus on Prevention; Public Health: and Criminal Justice. Each council is composed of leading professionals, educators, activists and students who bring research, analysis, best practices and legislative action to the drug policy conversation. Councils may convene town hall meetings and other public forums and engage the media to facilitate public education and advocacy for reform.