Stories from the Movement

A Mother Speaks Out

On June 13, 1971, I became a mother when my first son was born. Five days later, President Nixon declared the "war on drugs." Little did I know then that this war would be waged against families like mine for the next four decades.
I reflect on the joys and the challenges of motherhood, and I feel compelled to speak out against this silent but deadly war that has stealthily eaten away at the fabric of our lives. It has caused countless casualties, wasted taxpayer money, promoted discrimination against people of color, and taken away basic human liberties.
Employing fear-based, nonscientific dogma, this misguided war has robbed children of their futures, while building a massive prison-industrial complex. Grieving and angry mothers, tormented by needless loss, are speaking out to stop the violence, mass incarceration and overdose deaths.
Throughout history, mothers have come forward for the sake of their children to promote therapeutic and life-affirming policies. In the early '70s, I belonged to an organization called "Another Mother for Peace." In the 1930s, a group of mothers were instrumental in ending alcohol prohibition in the U.S. because they wanted to end the gangland violence and loss of lives caused by organized crime, fueled by Prohibition.
Moms can again be effective in calling for widespread drug policy reform, in order to stop the devastating loss of lives and liberty.
When my son was born, I realized that my most important role had just begun, and all my other passions and interests paled by comparison. Both of my sons were much adored, and we tried to give them every opportunity to ensure fabulous and fulfilling futures.
Unfortunately, both had addictive illness, which would have caused enough heartbreak and struggle, without the blundering roadblocks to recovery created by a criminal justice approach to what was essentially a health care problem. Besides dealing with the pain of lives interrupted by a life-threatening disorder, parents whose children are lost in the maze of addiction must also suffer humiliation, anger and stigma.
My older son spent a decade of his young life cycling through the criminal justice system for nonviolent drug offenses and relapse. This was a tragic waste of human potential, a painful journey for the family, and a tremendous cost to the state. I have several friends who have lost children to overdose, which could have been prevented if their children’s friends hadn’t been afraid of being arrested if they called the authorities.
With a Mama-bear mentality, I seek to alter what we know must be changed. I believe that we mothers are the silent majority. Far too many of us have experienced the devastation, but have been too stigmatized to speak out. To continue to pursue a war that has utterly failed and created so much damage is unconscionable. Mothers must speak out with courage and determination to promote policies of harm reduction and restoration for the sake of our children and the future of the next generation.
Gretchen Burns Bergman is the Co-Founder & Executive Director of A New PATH (Parents for Addiction Treatment & Healing). The Moms United to End the War on Drugs campaign is a project of A New PATH.
Strengthening Families
Drug Overdose
Drug Treatment