Texas Ranger Josh Hamilton is the new golden boy of baseball. Hamilton’s record-breaking performance in Major League Baseball’s All-Star Home Run Derby at Yankee Stadium last week is a living testament to that fact that people who struggled with drugs in the past can change their lives in a positive way. A few years ago, Hamilton, who developed an addiction to alcohol and drugs—primarily crack cocaine— was at a lowest point of his life when he was suspended from baseball for almost three years.
Instead of giving in to the downward spiral of drug addiction, he made an effort to turn around his life through his love of baseball. After eight stints in rehab, Hamilton was finally able to kick his addiction and return to baseball. While he may not have won the Home Run Derby crown, battling and defeating the monster of addiction makes him a winner.
Hamilton was fortunate that his addiction was not handled as a criminal manner. Instead of having Hamilton deal with his demons behind bars, his addiction was treated as a medical problem, which helped him get his life back on track. Hamilton’s story sends a powerful message to society. Individuals who have drug addictions can become productive citizens, if given the chance.
A realistic way to help those who cycle in and out of addiction is to increase community-based treatment. Studies have shown this to be a cost-effective method of reducing drug abuse. Hamilton was lucky enough to be able to afford treatment and get access right away. Most people cannot afford it. And even if they can, they are usually forced to compete for the available treatment slots.
Recent developments in criminal justice indicate the emergence of a national movement in favor of treating, rather than incarcerating people charged with a nonviolent drug possession offense. These developments include drug courts, local policies which favor treatment, and statewide ballot initiatives that divert nonviolent drug offenders to treatment instead of incarceration.
But instead of following this trend, the federal government continues to turn a blind eye toward this movement and steadfastly sticks to zero-tolerance when it comes to illegal drug use. Witness the get-tough policies of ONDCP (Office of National Drug Control Policy) under the direction of John P. Walters. In fact, the ONDCP is so hell-bent on controlling the so-called drug plague that their policies have turned from overly intrusive to downright war-like at times. From suspicionless student drug testing to mandatory minimum sentencing laws that dish out extraordinarily long sentences for small amounts of drugs, the drug war continues be the government’s national moral obsession. It is one thing to try to shield society from the harms associated with the drugs, but another when its solutions become worse than the original problems.
We need to implement sensible drug policies that uphold the sovereignty of individuals over their minds and bodies, and are grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights. Maybe then we can give people like Josh Hamilton another chance to make good on their potential.