Editor’s note: This September, Audacious Ideas features a special month-long series in conjunction with National Alcohol and Drug Addiction Recovery Month. We’ve asked several individuals to share their ideas about addiction issues and the failed war on drugs. Franklin Dyson is the second in our series.
“The crisis that’s killing our city” is how Governor Martin O’Malley, former Baltimore Mayor, refers to drug addiction. Beyond the devastating consequences for the individuals who abuse alcohol and drugs, addiction contributes to the spread of infectious diseases and fuels crime. Research conducted by Copersino, Comberbatch, Jones, and Sitzer (2004) states that in Baltimore, injection drug use is the primary cause of AIDS, which is the leading killer of city residents between the ages of 25 and 44.1 Baltimore’s crime rate is double the national average, and as many as three-quarters of the city’s thefts, robberies and murders are associated with alcohol and illicit drugs. During the 1990s, the city’s drug overdose death rate tripled. The economic costs of drug abuse and addiction in Baltimore alone exceed $2.5 billion a year. Many of Maryland’s leaders are coming to the conclusion already reached in Baltimore: Treatment deserves more support. Elected officials have become increasingly concerned about drug abuse throughout the state, especially over heroin’s resurgence during the 1990s.
Let’s face facts, in Baltimore, as well as across the United States, we are fighting a losing battle. The war on drugs is really a war on people who use drugs. Locking up people who use drugs is a waste of time, energy and resources. Jails become a revolving door for many addicts who could benefit more from residential drug treatment programs than being exposed to hardened career criminals and inhumane conditions which exist in prisons. Offering drug offenders an opportunity to go to treatment as opposed to going to jail would help reduce the stress on an already over-burdened penal system and reduce the recidivism rate among drug addicts. Of course not all drug offenders will benefit from treatment, however, those who do benefit integrate back into society as responsible productive members of their communities. The reciprocal effect of those addicts who make a commitment to change their lives is greatly multiplied when they return to their families and communities as changed people.
Unfortunately, this country’s approach to drug treatment is more reactive than responsive. This is due mostly to the fact that much of our country’s economy is built on drug use as opposed to drug treatment. Decriminalize drugs and you step on a whole lot of toes. The need for prisons and police are greatly reduced, as well as the infrastructures which support those systems.
In order to change the seemingly insatiable demand Americans have acquired for drugs we must change our way of thinking about drugs. This whole notion we have about “better living through chemistry” must be re-analyzed and remarketed. Treatment teaches people about the effects of drugs, it gives people without hope a reason to live. It helps people examine and re-evaluate their lives and the direction they are headed. Treatment brings families together and helps them examine their roles and relationships it teaches them how to interact in more wholesome and healthier ways. Treatment affords addicts a time out from being caught up in the getting and using and finding ways and means of getting and using drugs, without exposing them to the hardened life of prison. Treatment works, treatment saves lives.
1 Copersino, M., Cumberbach, Z., Jones, H., Stitzer, M. (2004). Comparative Drug use and psychosocial profiles of opiate dependents applying for medication versus medication-free treatment. American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse 30(2), 237.