On Noelle Bush's
War on Xanax
What's Going On?
A sound basis for a drug policy
By Ethan A. Nadelmann, Executive Director of Drug Policy Alliance
What is it about this generation of Bushes? Last year both of President Bush's daughters got themselves arrested for underage drinking. Now their older cousin, Noelle, gets busted for fraud after forging a prescription for the anti-anxiety drug Xanax®. My first thought was: Is this some sort of rebellion against their authority-figure dads? Or are they simply unlucky?
My second thought was: Maybe the tendencies toward drug abuse problems simply run in the family. Noelle's uncle, President Bush, was pretty open about his struggles with alcohol when he was in his 20s, and a lot less candid about whether he struggled with other substances as well. But then again, these reports so far only involve drug law problems, not clear drug-abuse problems.
My third thought was: It's not just the Bushes. Think of all the wives and daughters of men who have occupied or sought to occupy the White House in recent decades. Joan Kennedy, former wife of Sen. Edward Kennedy, has long battled alcohol abuse, as did First Lady Betty Ford. Kitty Dukakis struggled for decades with abuse of alcohol and prescription amphetamines. John McCain's wife, Cindy, illegally obtained prescription painkillers to support her habit, and Ronald Reagan's daughter, Patti Davis, eventually 'fessed up' to her love affair with cocaine. It almost seems like there's no better predictor of getting in trouble with drugs than being the wife or daughter (or son or brother) of a man who aspires to the presidency.
My fourth thought was: I'm being unfair. There's nothing so special about those Bush daughters, or about any of the other prominent wives and daughters who got in trouble with drugs or the law. Tens of millions of Americans find themselves in trouble with alcohol or other drugs at one point or another in their lives. And tens of millions have been arrested on alcohol or other drug-related charges. The only thing special about these women is a mixed blessing of being closely related to a very famous man - which means their problems are known not just to their families and friends and the arresting authorities but to many millions of others who watch TV and read the papers.
My fifth thought was: None of these women has actually gone to prison or suffered any other significant legal consequences for their criminal violations. They suffer serious embarrassment on a public scale most of us will never know. But they also come from families and social classes that afford much better opportunities for keeping the criminal justice system at bay. I surely don't want to see any of them behind bars for their troubles with drugs and the law - but what about the millions of ordinary Americans who have lost their freedom for days, weeks, months or years because of a drug problem? Weren't many of them guilty of nothing more serious than these wives and daughters of our national politicians?
"This is a very serious problem," said Noelle's father, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, in a statement issued after his daughter's arrest. "Unfortunately, substance abuse is an issue confronting many families across our nation. We ask the public and media to respect our family's privacy during this difficult time so that we can help our daughter."
Jeb Bush is right, of course. If his daughter has a drug problem, surely it's best handled as a private family matter. Yet, what about other people's sons and daughters? The law that Noelle likely violated is punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. Noelle won't go to prison, nor would most other first offenders. But what about other young people whose families don't have the resources of the Bushes? What about other young people whose parents aren't able or even available to help them? Why exactly do we have such severe laws on the books for punishing people whose only real offense, if it can be called that, is related to putting a psychoactive substance into their body?
Maybe this unfortunate turn of events in the Bush family will serve as a wakeup call for Jeb Bush. For the past 10 years more people have been admitted to Florida state prisons for drug-law violations than for any other charge. The state's voters will likely have an opportunity to vote on a ballot initiative this November - modeled on California's Proposition 36 - to provide treatment instead of incarceration for people with substance abuse problems who get arrested on drug possession charges. The governor has already spoken out against the initiative, just as the vast majority of California's politicians opposed Prop 36 until 61 percent of their constituents voted otherwise.
So here's my last thought, one I hope Jeb Bush will take to heart: Treat others as you would want your own son or daughter treated. It's a good principle in life, and a sound basis for drug policy.
This article appeared in several US newspapers including the Denver Post, Chicago Sun-Times and Tallahassee Democrat in early-February 2002.
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