June 19, 2021 – He found enough temporary work to pay rent on a room, ate at soup kitchens, and stole and resold goods for cash.

“Feeding that addiction,” he says. “Feeding that monster.”

We’re only using Will’s first name because future landlords or employers might not take him based on his record.

One morning almost three years ago, with no heroin and no money to buy any, Will went into withdrawal. This former basketball player, once in top shape, dragged himself down the street searching for a deal. He had some crack that he could sell. The buyer was an undercover cop.

“That was the game changer,” Will says.

Instead of prison, Will was sent to a daily probation program in Massachusetts called Community Corrections. It’s one sign of what has changed in the 50 years since President Richard Nixon declared the War on Drugs. It ended up targeting people with Black or brown skin, like Will.

“In the early 1970s when this so-called War on Drugs was started, it really functioned much more as a war on the people addicted to drugs,” says Dr. Stephen Taylor, an addiction psychiatrist in Birmingham, Ala.

The Massachusetts program launched 25 years ago as a remedy for prison overcrowding. But attitudes about drug users were beginning to shift too.



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