We hear a lot about the opioid epidemic on the news and from family and friends. What began as medical prescription drug abuse quickly became recreational. What was a personal medical problem soon became a criminal one. It’s difficult to mention the opioid epidemic without also mentioning the war on drugs. Read more.
Understanding the opioid epidemic
The news rarely goes a single day or two without saying something about the massive amounts of overdoses from drugs like prescription painkillers or heroin. While everyone agrees that there should be a way to curb drug use, the methods used for fighting opioid abuse have often added fuel to the fire instead of actually helping addicts find a way to get help. People who are concerned with the criminal nature of drug abuse might not even care all that much about the personal toll addiction takes on its victims. They simply want addicts off the streets and behind bars. Herein lies the massive problem with the war on drugs: The casualties haven’t been the drugs themselves but the people they’ve already destroyed.
The toll addiction takes during active use
During active addiction, the sufferer of opioid addiction usually encounters not just medical problems but legal issues. Due to the criminal nature of possessing certain substances like heroin and prescription drugs obtained illegally, the suffering addict is going to wind up in a court room the majority of the time, and a felony drug charge can be one of the most damning of all things an addict will encounter during use. This felony charge is going to impact the person’s life long after the addiction has been treated. Here’s how.
Felony drug charges
These charges will leave an addict with a permanent scar on their criminal history that can impact future employment, future living arrangements, even future financial assistance for things like college, and much, much more. When applying for a job, a felon will be unable to get a certain job due to the felony drug charges. In many ways, this has handicapped addicts in recovery even further and made it more difficult to get well. Why?
Well, a good part of recovery is about rebuilding life and substituting drug use with wonderful things like a great job, a nice place to live, and a future education. When you’ve got a felony drug possession charge, not only are you facing prison time that can steal years of life and add to the bitterness and anger of drug addiction, but you’re going to have a hard time with practical things like finding an apartment to live on during recovery.
This is one of the saddest parts of how the war on drugs approaches drug addicts. Instead of viewing them as people who are suffering from a mental and physical disease, they are viewed as criminals who need to be kept out of every area of normal life. By keeping them out, many times the criminal justice system also keeps the addicts in active addiction because unemployment, homelessness, and non-productivity all fuel the fires of drug addiction. Where else will the addict turn when they can’t find a decent job or place to live? Often the first place they turn back to is drugs. “I tried,” they might say, “But I got nowhere sober.”
The Changing Opinions about the War On Drugs
The war on drugs has turned into a war on opioid addicts, a good many of them who became addicts because of legitimate medical problems. By crippling them further with harsh drug sentences, and approaching possession as a criminal rather than medical issue, the war on drugs basically turns into a war on the life of the recovering addict.
Thankfully some people are turning the tide on this approach and viewing addiction as a medical rather than criminal issue. Instead of dishing out harsh penalties like prison sentences, judges are opting for things like Drug Court or even probation and long-term residential treatment as substitutes for prison. During these medical and emotional treatments, a drug addict has time to get help for their addiction with intensive inpatient treatments and an instant way to gain access to jobs and living arrangements accessible to felony drug abusers. This seems to have helped in some ways but there is still a long way to go before addicts have the medical and spiritual treatments they need to fend off the ongoing war on drugs. The mirical is that at least change is occurring.