FIRST STEP : TOWARDS A CULTURE OF TREATMENT, NOT PUNISHMENT
We see them on a daily basis — the disheveled, homeless person wandering the streets. For most of us, a first reaction to seeing our fellow human being in such a state is, “what set of circumstances brings a person to this condition?”
Or, “I have heard that this is a lifestyle choice. But why would anyone willing choose to live this way? “
This to many of us is the face of addiction and alcoholism.
Living on the streets and not seeking shelter is a choice often made by those who use drugs or alcohol. Most shelters turn away people seen to be under the influence; yet to those who continue to “use,” enduring the perils of nature and dangers of living on the street is a price worth paying .
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, those who estimate the cost of drug and alcohol abuse peg it at over $600 billion annually. Breaking this huge amount down, we find $ 193 billion spent for illicit drugs, the same amount for tobacco, and $235 billion for alcohol. From these immense dollar totals alone, we can conclude that substance abuse is not limited only to unfortunate men and women living on the margins of our society.
About drug and alcohol abuse, the National Criminal Justice Reference Service states this:
“Many Americans believe that drug abuse is not their problem. They have misconceptions that drug users belong to a segment of society different from their own, or that drug abuse is remote from their environment. They are wrong. Almost three quarters of drug users are employed.
“A majority of Americans believes that drug use and drug-related crime are among our nation’s most pressing social problems. Indeed, about 45 percent of Americans actually know someone with a substance abuse problem.”
Imprisonment dogs the substance abuser in America. Our nation’s Bureau of Justice Statistics indicates that the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the free world. We imprison 743 of every 100,000, compared to 96 out of 100,000 in England and Wales and 71 per 100,000 in France. The Center for Economic Policy Research says that 60 percent of all US prisoners are incarcerated for non-violent crimes.
Much of that 60 percent goes to prison for relatively minor crimes – because “three strikes” laws require lengthy mandatory minimum sentencing no matter what..
A criminal-system response to the disease of addiction arises from our society’s perception that substance abuse is a moral failing rather than a medical condition. By no means am I suggesting not holding people accountable for their actions. But accountability in the case of substance abuse should emphasize treatment and recovery.
The cost to our society of substance abuse goes well beyond dollar figures. Those afflicted with drug problems fill our emergency rooms, kill people through accidents and contribute towards violent crime. Violence often arises from the intoxicating effects of drugs and alcohol.
We need to seek out and find alternatives to the familiar but wasteful, crime and punishment approach toward the scourge that substance abuse puts upon our civil society. We do not punish people with diabetes, lactose intolerance or cancer. We treat them. Addiction is recognized as a mental illness, and often, in some cases it is a combination of both mental and physical ailments..
There are many collaborative efforts being forged to create a culture of treatment for drug abuse as a chronic condition rather than one of punishment. In upcoming blogs I hope to highlight and bring attention to those who are pursuing this course.
— John Shea III / The Way Home