Sanford to lawmakers: Where was this compassion during 1980s cocaine epidemic?

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — It's commendable that Governor Bill Haslam wants to spend his last year in office combating the opioid crisis that is claiming Tennessee lives by the day.

Just this week, he announced a $30 million effort using state and federal funds to support a plan that provides extensive treatment to people addicted to prescription drugs but are either uninsured or cannot afford the treatments themselves. A second part seeks to limit the number of opioid prescriptions many people can receive. The governor also wants legislation to reduce prison sentences of convicted drug offenders provided they complete a nine month substance abuse treatment program.

Because Haslam enjoys unprecedented popularity, it's likely that the legislature will go along with most of the governor's proposal. Even hard core, law and order legislators have shown a high level of compassion toward the opioid epidemic in ways that were not present during the crack cocaine epidemic in the 1980s when the rallying cry was to lock them up and throw away the key.

Some even make the point that most crack cocaine abusers were people of color living in urban areas while a majority of opiod abusers are white rural residents and suburbanites.

None of this is to say that the current crisis should not be treated humanely. It should. And Haslam deserves credit for acting.

If only the same level of compassion existed 35 years ago.