Further criminalizing substance abuse simply doesn't work

I think it’s a symptom of a weak and unprepared mind to suggest that increasing police budgets just to deal with narcotics is a good use of tax dollars.  Of the 1,552,432 arrests for drug law violations in 2012, 82.2% (1,276,099) were for possession of a controlled substance.  That’s a statistic that, to me, is absurd and borders on the insane.  The criminal justice system is overwhelmed right now.  I’ve spent more time than I ever cared to spend talking with probation and parole professionals whose hearts are very much in the right place, but they simply have a caseload that doesn’t allow them to explore every avenue of treatment.  I don’t think throwing more money at the caseloads is going to help; really, addiction is a bio-psycho-social disease that requires education and treatment.

Furthermore, incarceration is traumatizing.  The lessons learned in jail and in prison are more about survival and dehumanization than on anything healthful.   There are some opportunities for education and rehabilitation in jail and prison, but more often than not, most who are addicted to opiates learn to hustle inside jail or prison, which makes them all the better at it upon their release.  Plus, the separation from families causes a cycle of trauma upon both those convicted and upon their families and children.  Expanding an outdated mentality of criminalizing a health problem will only further limit and overwhelm a system that is already over-burdened.

Rather, I think it’s incumbent upon our government, education, and health officials to work together to develop educational programming that will address all facets of prevention and treatment.  We need leaders who have a vision and will actually solicit feedback and input from real treatment providers, not organizations that exist only for their own funding.  For example, I strongly advocate creative expression programs aimed at at-risk youth.  These programs can aid in the development of skills through which our youth can gain mastery and identity and purpose.   Further, we as a community, must partner with business leaders to develop job skills training aimed at reversing the cycle of poverty that binds too much of our population.

I realize that outdated thoughts will persist.  But, I really think that unless we wake up and see that the criminalization of substance abuse has been a miserable and expensive failure, we will continue to add to the problem instead of solving it.  Our criminal justice system should be reserved for criminals; not those who suffer with a disease that is becoming more and more prevalent.  Let old ideas rest in peace.