Santa Barbara’s chapter of the national organization A New PATH — Parents for Addiction Treatment and Healing — will participate in the organization’s new countrywide campaign to help end the nation’s “War on Drugs” starting this Mother’s Day.

The nonprofit activism group organized the Moms United to End the War on Drugs campaign to advocate for proper treatment of drug addictions instead of harsh legal ramifications for drug use.

Local PATH member Gretchen Burns Bergman said the roots of the problem lie in the origin of the drug war in the 1970s. According to Bergman, the group is not sponsoring substance use but considers the current system of handling drug violators to be harmful and counterproductive.

“These methods of harsh punishment for drug use are clearly not working, as observed by the 75 percent recidivism rate for convicts in Santa Barbara County,” Bergman said. “So many lives and families have been destroyed by the war on drugs and all the money being used to fight drug use is simply feeding the prison-industrial complex. Moms United certainly doesn’t advocate drug use, but it is time our nation realized that the War on Drugs is doing far more harm than good in our communities.”

Suzanne Riordan, a mother working on the Moms United campaign in the Santa Barbara area, said her son Ian turned to drug use as self-medication to relieve his symptoms of bipolar disorder.

“He was arrested for drug use and put on probation,” Suzanne said. “His illness had not been treated and, when faced with a drug test and the possibility of being sent to prison, he had a full relapse and died of an overdose.”

The problem, Riordan said, is that drug cases are handled with criminal punishment rather than counseling services and other productive forms of treatment.

“The state of California spends nearly $16 billion annually prosecuting drug crimes and giving felony charges to desperate people seeking relief from debilitating mental disorders,” Riordan said. “All of that money could be going into positive treatment centers where these people can get the help they need to become functioning members of society. Such harsh punishments also make it less likely that the friends of an addict will contact the authorities when they believe a friend to be overdosing.”

Bergman also said the negative social connotation of drug abuse is harmful to those who suffer from it.

“What people need to understand about drug addiction is that it is not a moral failing but a true sickness,” Bergman said. “People try to remove themselves from this issue out of fear and ignorance instead of recognizing the need for compassion. It is time to break down this stigma and get more parents involved and speaking out against this failing program.”

The campaign will host a set of rallies and teach-ins across the country on June 17, the anniversary of the start of the War on Drugs 40 years ago. Those who wish to contribute or volunteer can go online to or join the campaign’s group on Facebook.