Sally Davies, the UK’s chief medical officer, and Eric Holder, US Attorney General, have both come out in recent days as supporting a change in each country’s drug addiction policy. The former, who is calling for addiction to be considered a medical issue rather than a criminal issue, is still far different than Holder’s policy, which is to remove minimum mandatory sentences.
While both are steps in the right direction, unfortunately, the rationale for the US policy on drug addiction is still a faulty one.
An addict cannot help being an addict. It is a physical, mental, and spiritual ailment.
If national policy is to reduce the pain and suffering of addicts and their families, then it makes sense, too, for the policy not to add more pain and suffering to the addicts and their families by incarcerating addicts and adding further financial and emotional burdens.
If it is to keep the flow of money traceable, then outlawing the sale of drugs does the exact opposite, driving the market underground.
If the goal is to reduce violence committed by both addicts and dealers, then driving the market above ground and regulating the sale and distribution makes more sense than locking up those who have already committed violent acts after the fact.
Of course, it is a complex issue, without any clear-cut answer. However, we have seen families harmed further by drug addiction when their loved one comes into conflict with the law. For real addicts and alcoholics, prison bars are not a cure for drug addiction, nor are they rehabilitative in any way—if anything, they make matters worse by limiting future options due to criminal records and placing the person in an environment from which one seeks escape and in which drugs are plentiful.
We are not saying that all illicit drugs should be legal, or that there should not be consequences for their use. However, it is kind of silly to think that, for the most part, throwing an addict or alcoholic into jail where drugs are plentiful is somehow going to do them more good than harm.
Ask how many addicts and alcoholics set out in life with that as their goal, and we are sure that the number is pretty low.
Just as quarantine rarely helps the sufferers of the disease, locking addicts and alcoholics in jail is not a real treatment plan either. Sure, it keeps the unpleasantness for everyone else behind closed doors, but it does not provide a solution to the actual problem.
While the public perception has shifted from drug addiction and alcoholism being a moral issue, there is still much to be done. It should not be encouraged, but it is clear that some things work, and others do not. For too long, national policy has continued with this legal experiment of incarcerating addicts and alcoholics, and it has cost many years of their lives without providing any real sort of treatment. If it were any other disease being addressed in this manner, people would be in the streets with pitchforks and torches.
Let us know what you think about drug addiction policy in the comments section!