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Watch: Chris Christie's wise, humane comments about how America gets drug addiction wrong

Chris Christie Makes Emotional Plea To Rethink Drug Addiction ...

"Somehow, if it's heroin or cocaine or alcohol, we say, 'They decided it, they're getting what they deserved.'"

Posted by HuffPost Politics on Friday, October 30, 2015

We don't question when someone with tobacco-caused lung cancer checks into a hospital for treatment. So why should we question someone who's trying to avoid a deadly outcome with heroin, cocaine, or alcohol?

That was the question posed by Republican presidential candidate and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie at a recent town hall. The governor spoke about his mom getting treatment for lung cancer after decades of smoking — and the contradiction that seems to pose for drug policy as a whole. "Somehow, if it's heroin or cocaine or alcohol, we say, 'They decided it, they're getting what they deserved,'" Christie said, the Huffington Post reported.

Christie said he wants that to change — and emphasized a public health over criminal justice approach when it comes to drugs.

It may seem like common sense, but this is a big political and policy shift

It seems like a simple point: Addiction is a disease, and it should be treated as one. But it's a somewhat revolutionary idea in terms of policy. For decades, drug policy has focused on a criminal justice approach that treats drug use and abuse as an issue that should be solved through the police, jails, and prisons — not doctors, clinics, and hospitals. In 2014 alone, more than 1.5 million people were arrested for "drug abuse violations," according to FBI data. About 83.1 percent of arrests were for possession, and only 16.9 percent were for sale or manufacturing a drug.

Criminal justice reformers have long decried the criminal justice approach, arguing that it would be much more sensible — and humane — to tackle drug abuse as a public health issue. With the ongoing opioid painkiller and heroin epidemic, it seems like the country is finally moving in that direction — with federal and state officials increasingly focusing on reforming law enforcement and courts to favor a public health approach. Christie, for example, signed legislation that expanded drug courts that emphasize treatment over jail and prison for addicts.

Addiction "can happen to anyone," Christie said. "So we need to start treating people in this country, not jailing them. We need to give them the tools they need to recover. Because every life is precious. Every life is an individual gift from God."

It cannot be overstated how big of a political shift this is from just recently. A few decades ago, both parties overwhelmingly favored tough-on-crime approaches to fight drug use and abuse. In the 1980s, then-Sen. Joe Biden helped write and pass legislation that imposed strict mandatory minimum prison sentences for drug offenses, and President Ronald Reagan signed the bill into law. A few years later, President George H.W. Bush held up a bag of crack cocaine in a TV broadcast from the Oval Office and vowed to escalate the war on drugs. And a few years after that, President Bill Clinton signed a crime law that encouraged states to expand prison sentences and policing.

So it's telling that the bipartisan support is flipping in the other direction. Christie, a Republican, wants a public health approach. Democrats like President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have said the same. It seems like common sense to a lot of people, but it's a serious change when it comes to policy.