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Description: Think about how you would answer this question. Why do we arrest people found in possession of personal use amounts of addictive drugs and often send them to jail? Is it because we think that the threat of arrest will be a deterrent to becoming addicted? How is that working out for us? What if we stopped doing that? Do not dismiss the idea too quickly. It does not mean that we should stop doing anything at all to try and stop people from becoming addicted to illicit drugs or to help them stop using those drugs if they are addicted to them now. What sorts of things would need to be included in an approach to dealing with addictions that did not include incarceration for personal use amounts possession? Think about that for a moment and then read the article linked below that talks about Oregon’s recent experiences with just such an approach.

Source: Treating Addiction as a Crime Doesn’t Work. What Oregon Is Doing Just Might. Maia Szalavitz, The New York Times.

Date: January 26, 2022

Image by RenoBeranger from Pixabay

Article Link:

We have come to understand a LOT in recent years about the role that stigma plays in making it difficult for people dealing with, or who have dealt with, mental illness to manage positively in the social world. One of the big suggestions in the linked article is that similar issues are at play in relation to addiction. It might be seen to boil down to the question of whether addiction arises from an array of complex personal, social, and circumstantial issues or whether it arises from one or more fundamental character flaws or due to a lack of will power. Despite this often being treated as political issue and alternatives like the one being tried in Oregon did start as a ballot initiative, research can illuminate alternative possibilities and demonstrate their efficacy or the lack there of. Such work is now underway in Oregon and has been ongoing since 2000 in Portugal. We need to look closely at the results and, as we do, we need to look closely at our assumptions as different approaches to addiction (other than jail) might be preferrable AND more effective.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What are some of the ways that stigma might be associated with drug addiction and drug use?
  2. What are some of the consequences of using incarceration as an approach to reducing drug use?
  3. What are some of the ways that Oregon’s approach to addiction is different than that taken in most other jurisdictions and how have things gone in Portugal over the past 11 years?

References (Read Further):

Ximene, R. Ê. G. O., Oliveira, M. J., & Lameira, C. (2021). 20 years of Portuguese drug policy-developments, challenges and the quest for human rights. Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention, and Policy, 16(1), 1-11. Link

National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2016). Ending discrimination against people with mental and substance use disorders: The evidence for stigma change. National Academies Press. Link (use guest download option)

Henkel, D. (2011). Unemployment and substance use: a review of the literature (1990-2010). Current drug abuse reviews, 4(1), 4-27. Link

Trusts, P. C. (2018). More imprisonment does not reduce state drug problems. PEW Charitable Trusts. Link

Netherland, J., Kral, A. H., Ompad, D. C., Davis, C. S., Bluthenthal, R. N., Dasgupta, N., … & Wheelock, H. (2022). Principles and Metrics for Evaluating Oregon’s Innovative Drug Decriminalization Measure. Journal of Urban Health, 1-4. Link

MacQuarrie, A. L., & Brunelle, C. (2022). Emerging Attitudes Regarding Decriminalization: Predictors of Pro-Drug Decriminalization Attitudes in Canada. Journal of Drug Issues, 52(1), 114-127. Link

Kleinman, R. A., & Morris, N. P. (2021). Rethinking the Criminalization of Personal Substance Use and Possession. Journal of General Internal Medicine, 1-3. Link