The latest research has been showing some alarming trends when it comes to opiate addiction here in the U.S.
The scary data is showing that traditional methods of dealing with heroin and opiate addicts is, in fact, leading many of them to overdose and eventually die.
Therefore, new efforts are being made in terms of simply keeping more opiate addicts from dying. One way is through the legal system.
CBS News says that this new court in New York “…can get users into treatment within hours of their arrest instead of days, requires them to check in with a judge every day for a month instead of once a week, and puts them on strict curfews.”
This is a fairly big step forward in the fight to change drug addiction from being a crime and something that is punished to a disease that is instead treated.
The problem that the courts have had over the years is that they end up punishing addicts and not rehabilitating them, which only leads to more addictive behavior in the future. Meanwhile, if an addict is punished for their addiction but not given any tools to help them to find recovery, they are very likely to remain stuck in the cycle of addiction.
So how are the courts helping addicts to break free from this cycle, rather than punishing them in a way that keeps them stuck?
The main thing that the courts are going to be able to do differently is to divert a struggling opiate addict into addiction treatment much quicker than what they could in the past. This is a huge improvement because the best course of action for any struggling opiate addict is almost always going to be inpatient rehab.
The key difference in diverting an addict into inpatient treatment is that they are going to start learning the tools of recovery, rather than simply being penalized for being caught up in addiction. When they go to treatment they will likely be in 12 step meetings, introduced to recovery strategies and tactics, and also be assigned a therapist or counselor. At this point they will also be in treatment with a group of peers that are also trying to recover just like they are. The effect of this peer support cannot be overlooked, as it may be the key difference in an addict who remains clean and sober versus someone who relapses. In other words, the community support that you receive when you go to inpatient treatment can make all the difference in the world when it comes to staying clean in early recovery. Without this support structure it is not likely that an addict can remain clean even for a short time.
Statistically the numbers are fairly staggering when you compare treatment and prevention with incarceration. The ratio is projected by many studies to be anywhere from 10 to 1 to 100 to 1, in terms of “for every 1 dollar spent on treatment you save 10 dollars on incarceration costs down the road.” While the projections can vary a bit from study to study, the evidence is always overwhelmingly in favor of treatment over punishments.
One of the factors that is not really baked into these kinds of statistics is the idea that “healed people heal people,” meaning that when you divert someone from addiction into the world of recovery, you get two huge benefits from that which are very far reaching:
1) The addict stops using drugs and also stops influencing others to do the same, reduces demand from drug dealers, stops using with other addicts and propagating their addiction, and so on. In other words, an active drug addict can be a destructive force who influences others and can even pass on their addictive habits to their children or loved ones.
2) The addict starts practicing recovery, in which they will likely be doing “twelfth step work” at some point. Meaning that they have an obligation to carry the message of hope and recovery to others who struggle with addiction. So in effect they reverse their role of being a negative influence on people and instead they start trying to help others who may be struggling with opiate addiction.
The net gain to society in a case of the reformed addict is truly astounding, because not only do they stop being a negative force, but they also are helping new addict. So steering people in the direction of recovery has added gains that are not evident at first glance, and can be difficult to measure.
The problem of course it that some people are simply not at the level of willingness that is necessary in order to remain clean and sober. They are not yet ready to work a program of recovery because they simply have not surrendered yet. What should the courts do with such people? Punish them in the hopes that it will steer them right?
The correct answer is that you still try to expose them to the solution, you show them recovery even if they may not quite be ready for it. There are several reasons for this. One is that you can effectively “plant seeds” of hope for later on, so that the person will know that there is a solution in the future when they finally surrender “for real.”
The second reason that we should focus on recovery is that you just don’t know when a person is truly ready. It is fairly easy to fake surrender, unfortunately. Often the person who is most confident about their recovery, or the person who is the most excited, is not the person who is actually in a state of full and complete surrender. Unfortunately you can only really know for sure in retrospect, after you see the results. If the person relapses at some point then they obviously were not ready yet. If they stick it out and remain clean and sober, in spite of the chaos and adversity of life, then they were in a state of complete surrender.
We cannot know this in advance so the best approach is to push recovery, to push treatment, and keep planting those seeds. It won’t work with every addict, but it is still a better choice than incarceration and punishment with no real hope for reform. If you want to change the world and improve the lives of those affected by addiction then you have to invest in one person at a time and try to get each individual to pursue recovery. While it won’t be perfect it will be a whole lot better than a strictly punitive system.