When discussing addiction in the United States, it is hard to ignore the fact that it has not been handled appropriately. On top of being in the midst of a substance use epidemic, we have a long history of punishing people for being ill. Arresting and incarcerating nonviolent drug offenders have led to the largest prison population in the world.
Even though Americans account for merely five percent of the global population, we have more inmates than any other country by far. While steps have been taken in recent years to confront overpopulation in penal institutions, more than two million adults live behind bars.
According to the Prison Policy Initiative, one in five incarcerated people is locked up for a drug offense. Moreover, 451,000 Americans are incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses on any given day. Over one million drug possession arrests occur each year in the U.S.
Addiction is a form of mental illness. It is imperative that more be done to put a stop to draconian drug sentencing laws and provide people with treatment instead. Locking people up for the crime of drug use is only a temporary fix. Without access to adequate mental health services, inside jail or out, recidivism is practically a guarantee.
There are other ways lawmakers and enforcement officials can tackle substance abuse in America. Many states and municipalities have changed their stance on drug use, opting for diversion, and addiction treatment over jail and prison.
The American opioid crisis has had an impact on policymakers, many of whom now understand that substance use disorder is a disease. They have witnessed that addiction can impact anyone in their communities. However, we still have a long way to go as a nation regarding the handling of all mental illnesses, but with use disorder especially.
How Portugal Handles Addiction
Making alterations to the criminal justice system is not a simple task. Dispelling bad ideas and implementing evidence-based changes does not happen overnight. While America has excelled at trying to arrest away drug addiction, we are not alone. Many other countries have engaged in similar wars on drugs. Although, some republics have made drastic changes to how they deal with substance use in recent years.
Some of our readers may remember when Portugal decided to decriminalize drugs in 2001. The outcome of the country’s decision to treat drug possession as a public health issue has had mixed results. While more research is needed to better understand these outcomes, there are some interesting items worth mentioning. Statistics show:
- More people are seeking treatment.
- New HIV diagnoses reductions.
- Reductions in drug-related deaths.
- Drug use among adolescents and problematic users declined.
- Decreases in drug-related criminal justice workloads.
American prosecutors, in many cases, decide how to handle nonviolent drug offenders. It would seem that they may be able to glean insight from how things are being done across the Atlantic. This month, twenty prosecutors from major cities, like Philadelphia and Baltimore, are touring Portugal to learn about decriminalization.
The Marijuana Moment reports that the contingent of prosecutors will tour courts, prisons, treatment facilities, and health and community service providers. The trip is sponsored by the advocacy group Fair and Justice Prosecution.
“The enormous power of prosecutors to exercise their discretion in ways that ensure outcomes that enhance public safety and reduce recidivism is unparalleled in the criminal justice system,” said Washington, D.C. Attorney General, Karl Racine. “My colleagues and I look forward to learning from countries that have successfully reduced mass incarceration, reintegrated previously incarcerated individuals back into society, and treated drug users and individuals struggling with mental illness with health services and supports that have a high degree of success.”
California Chemical Dependency Treatment Center
Please contact Hemet Valley Recovery Center & Sage Retreat to speak with our Admissions and Assessment Department. We can answer any questions you have regarding our approach and what you can expect from receiving our care. We can help you stop the cycle of addiction and show you how to take steps toward lasting recovery.