Have you ever submitted a “Letter to the Editor” (LTE)? This is a great way for you to share your views with your local community, including the elected officials who represent you. It’s also a great way to let your local print and online journalists know you pay attention to their coverage of issues that are important to you and your community.
We hope you will take action now by writing an LTE and submitting it for publication in your local paper. We also hope we can make it easy for you by offering the following guidance, suggested messages, and sample LTEs.
General Guidance on Submitting LTEs
- Start off by mentioning a recent* event, news article, “op-ed,”** editorial from the paper’s editorial board, or someone else’s LTE on the same topic. This makes your letter more relevant to current events and “print-worthy.” In this particular case, you could mention the Senate Ways & Means Committee vote on SB 5476.
- Explain your connection to the issue and why you care. Share a fact or personal experience that informs what you know to be true.
- State what you want decision makers to do. In this particular case, tell your Washington State Senator and two Representatives that you want them to support passage of legislation this session that stops treating drug use as a crime and spells out how individuals and families in every corner of the state can ask for help with problematic drug use and receive it. If you’re not sure who your Senator and Representatives are, you can confirm that information here.
- Limit your letter to around 100 words. Include your name, address, and phone number so that the paper can confirm you’re a local and contact you if they have questions.
- Submit to your favorite local outlet first, and if they don’t respond within 48 hours, submit to your second favorite, and then third, and so on. Papers don’t like it when they’re considering printing your letter and then someone else beats them to the punch. When you start submitting LTEs, you’re building a relationship with your local editors, and they appreciate it when contributors understand and respect these details. They should also appreciate and respect LTE writers who are aware of these customs and take their contributions to another outlet when they don’t receive a timely response to their submission.
There are more than 90 blogs and news sites that publish LTEs in Washington: here’s a list of WA LTE submission links.
*within the past week
**short for a guest “opinion-editorial” column
Suggested Messages Specific to Legislation Responding to the Blake Decision
- Key Message: Senate Bill 5476 is a ground-breaking step away from failed “War on Drugs” policies. However, SB 5476 is missing a critical component: the roadmap for what we should do instead. We need a clear and readily accessible front door for individuals and families in every corner of Washington to get connected with effective treatment and recovery support services when they are ready to do so. House Bill 1499 contains that roadmap, and those pieces should be incorporated into SB 5476 as it advances.
- Washingtonians have known for a long time that treating drug use as a crime hasn’t worked. The recent State Supreme Court decision has given us a long overdue opportunity to rethink our approach and take a much-needed step in a new direction. It would be a shame to return to the failed policies of the past. Instead, we should take this chance to develop better, more effective approaches based on the latest science and data about how people recover.
- Some people turn to drugs to manage mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and exhaustion, or due to poverty, isolation, and trauma. It is wrong and ineffective to treat people who use drugs as criminals when we know so many of them are suffering. Their drug use is a symptom of a deeper problem, and they need access to services like housing, healthcare, and mental health treatment to address the true roots of their issues.
- Treating drug use as a crime and moral failing has had disastrous results in the current overdose epidemic. Not only are people struggling with problematic drug use too ashamed to seek help, they are at much greater risk of dying from overdose immediately after a term of incarceration. We need to start treating drug use as a public health issue, not a crime.
- Over the past fifty years, politicians have spent trillions of taxpayer dollars on a failed War on Drugs that has filled our jails and prisons, ruined lives, and worsened racial injustice—all while drug use has remained steady and overdose deaths have climbed. It’s time to break with the failed policies of the past and support a new, evidence-based approach in Washington.
Sample LTE #1
I saw that Senate Bill 5476, which would stop treating drug use as a crime, was just voted out of committee.
[I/A close friend of mine/One of my family members] struggled with drug use in the past. [I/he/she/they] [was/were] lucky. [I/he/she/they] never got arrested, and [I/he/she/they] [was/were] able to recover with the support of [friends/family/treatment/peer counselors].
I don’t think it’s fair that some people wind up with criminal records for drug use while others don’t, especially since the people who wind up with records tend not to have strong support networks or money for private treatment and lawyers.
I hope Sen. [last name of author’s state senator] and Reps. [last names of author’s two state representatives] will do what they can to keep SB 5476 moving and make sure it includes a plan for making help available to everyone across the state, regardless of their personal circumstances.
Sample LTE #2
A friend just pointed out to me that the Washington State Legislature is working to get SB 5476, a bill that would stop treating personal drug use as a crime, across the finish line in the next two weeks.
Finally. Politicians have spent trillions of taxpayer dollars on a failed War on Drugs that has filled our jails and prisons, ruined lives, and worsened racial injustice—but done nothing to curb drug use or overdose deaths.
I hope Washington will break from the failures of the past and embrace a new approach. Enough is enough.
Sample LTE #3
I lost a [friend/family member/loved one] to drug overdose. I still find it hard to explain the anguish in knowing [his/her/their] death could have been avoided if our government treated drug use as a public health crisis instead of a moral failing.
Because we still treat drug use as a crime, people struggling with drug addiction are too ashamed and afraid to seek help. If they get arrested, their likelihood of dying from overdose when they’re released increases exponentially.
I’m glad the Washington State Legislature is moving SB 5476, the bill that removes criminal penalties for drug use, but I hope legislators add a plan for making help available everywhere across the state, without fear or shame.