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War on Drugs Impedes New Beginning for Some Hurricane Victims
date: 27-September-2005
editorial comment editorial comment
Maybe they should send "Brownie" to the DEA.....

In the days and weeks following Hurricane Katrina (and the more recent Hurricane Rita), the media has reported on the abuse of human rights of mostly poor and black people. But what has been discussed far less is the government’s response to another segment of the population—hurricane victims affected by the nation’s flawed drug policies. As reconstruction efforts continue in the Gulf Coast, information gathering is starting to highlight the ways in which the war on drugs has adversely affected and will continue to affect those marginalized hurricane victims.

Alliance staff recently returned from several field visits to the Coast to assess the needs of victims and how drug war policies could affect rebuilding. Many grassroots agencies and community organizations on the ground in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas are collecting data that will be helpful in determining how well the federal government is dispensing aid to people with substance abuse problems, people in the criminal justice system and people with drug convictions. The word so far is that they deserve a failing grade.

Reports have surfaced of pain patients being denied medication because their situation is not considered an emergency. Many methadone patients have also lost out on medication because some clinics have been temporarily or permanently closed—a problem exacerbated by state laws that have kept out-of-state harm reduction workers from offering support. According to Human Rights Watch, inmates in Templeman III, a building in the Orleans Parish Prison compound, were abandoned by correctional officers and left in flooded cells for several days without electricity, food or water. Additionally, there are reports that many families may be denied Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) if they have a drug conviction. Investigations are underway to determine whether the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is denying people with drug convictions who lost their homes to Katrina access to public housing assistance and thus a chance at rebuilding their lives.

The government should assist all victims with housing, medical attention and job placement, but the federal response to Katrina indicates that unjust drug war policies are impacting even the victims of one of the nation’s largest natural disasters.

The Alliance is now talking with local groups to determine how it can be most useful in the recovery process. This could include working with health departments to improve disaster plans, as well as collaborating with grassroots organizations to document survivors’ experiences and in turn use that information to shape future policies. The Alliance will work to help shape the future of drug policy reform in the South, restore human rights and establish a support system for the victims of both a hurricane and a failed drug war.

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