The Wyoming Justice Project believes our nation’s substance abuse problem should be considered a public health problem as opposed to a criminal justice problem. Any dollar spent on incarcerating drug users would be much better spent on providing treatment.
The so-called “war on drugs” has been a costly, destructive, abysmal failure. Government efforts have focused on prohibition and enforcement. There has been some effort for treatment and a poor effort at addressing prevention. You can try to reduce the supply of drugs all you want. But if you aren’t addressing the issues that turn people to drug use, any effort will fail.
In 2014, over 1.5 million people were arrested on drug charges.
Between 50,000-60,000 students each year are denied financial aid for school due to past drug convictions.
Drug crimes account for about 20% of this nation’s prison population. More concerning is that one-third of new admissions into prisons are for drug crimes.
However, 65% of all inmates in the country are substance abuse addicts. Only a small portion of them receive any treatment.
As of 2008, drug poisoning deaths in the United States were five times higher than they were in 2008. The war on drugs has not had an impact on drug usage, nor has it saved lives.
Too many people see substance abuse as a character flaw in which the person is just weak or unable to say no. There are many situations and factors which can play a roll in whether or not someone becomes an addict, such as; hereditary, past trauma, chronic pain, depression, relationship issues, grief, or stress.
Many people with substance abuse addictions are in literal or figurative pain. Many drugs give our brain a temporary euphoric effect. It makes the user feel good. Our brains want to to continue to feel good and want more of the drug. It starts to develop a tolerance and the user has to use more of the drug and/or more often to get the same euphoric results. Many of these people are suffering just as people are who in engage in other unsafe or risky behaviors involving food, sex, gambling, etc.
So what do we do? What if we treated drugs as a health issue instead of a moral or criminal issue. Jail and prison will not change behaviors and help addicts, but treatment will.