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A Narcotics Officer Ends His War on Drugs

(Source: theatlantic.com)

“I now think the whole drug war is total bullshit,” he said.

“Drugs are menacing our society,” intoned President Ronald Reagan in a 1986 televised address. “They’re killing our children.” Fresh out of the Air Force, Kevin Simmers was driving a milk truck. Reagan was “an inspiring speaker,” Simmer said, so he decided to apply to become a Hagerstown police officer.

Tall, opinionated, irreverent, and fiercely competitive, Simmers was “larger than life,” said Nick Varner, a Hagerstown police detective who trained under him. His policing philosophy was simple, Varner said: “Lock up the problem.” Sergeant Simmers liked contests: Whoever brings in the most arrests tonight gets free dinner.

In Clear Spring, Maryland, a Hagerstown suburb and a real-life Norman Rockwell painting, Varner shot hoops with Simmers and Brooke. A gifted athlete, “she wiped the floor with both of us,” Varner recalled. Brooke had no problem swimming the formidable Potomac River clear to its West Virginia bank. “Kevin was very strong willed,” Varner said, and “she was a lot like him.” Varner remembered how Brooke once walked into the church where he was a pastor and said, “Do you really think that Jesus could walk on water?”

“If there was a tenth gear, she was in it,” said Brooke’s mother, Angie von Gersdorff. “She needed that extra adrenaline rush.” Von Gersdorff and Simmers split up when Brooke was a baby. Within a few years, they both remarried. Von Gersdorff said Brooke’s antics overlaid a darker struggle already underway. “She began to fester in puberty,” she said.

Brooke was given to angry outbursts that worsened as high school began. Finally, in a heated argument, she punched her stepmother, Dana Simmers, in the face—hard, leaving bruises. The Simmers and von Gersdorff got together to decide what to do. “She’s going to have to learn a lesson. We’re going to report it,” von Gersdorff remembers the group deciding. “Tough love.” They called the police and Brooke landed in juvenile detention. But von Gersdorff now regrets feeding her daughter to the justice system at such a young age. “I really thought that it was going to help, but it did not. It did the complete and utter opposite,” von Gersdorff told me. “It’s a huge guilt that makes me so angry. I can’t hit something hard enough to get any relief.” In the years after juvenile detention, Brooke starting hanging out with a rougher crowd and eventually got hooked on pills.

Read: No family is safe from this epidemic.

After she told Simmers about her addiction, the unsuccessful rehab attempts grinded the family’s patience and finances. Simmers said waiting lists often stymied their attempts to get help—by the time a spot opened up, Brooke was out on the street again. Then, when she was accepted, she did not receive medication-assisted treatment, which much of the medical literature describes as the gold standard of care. Such treatment combines therapy with low-dose opioids like buprenorphine to help control cravings, but it is still often stigmatized as a way of replacing one addiction with another. Brooke’s rehabs embraced a strict prohibition on medication of any kind—one even kicked her out when staff discovered ibuprofen in her luggage. Abstinence-based drug treatment is astonishingly ineffective but deeply entrenched in the United States. Leading public-health organizations including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and the World Health Organization all recommend medication-assisted treatment, but only about 12 percent of people with a substance-use disorder receive specialty treatment.

More Info: theatlantic.com

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