Many people are wrongly under the impression that those who suffer from addictions to substances such as drugs or alcohol are flawed or weak. They assume that these individuals have no willpower or that they are bad people. This could not be further from the truth. The reality is that addiction is a recognised illness of the brain. However, despite that fact that addiction is an illness, many countries still have drugs policies that treat addiction as a criminal issue and not a health one.
Focusing on Treatment
Some countries, like Portugal for example, have amended their drugs policies and decriminalised the use of drugs. The law in Portugal was introduced in 2001, with many objectors at that time. Drugs are still illegal in Portugal in the sense that authorities will still prosecute those who deal or supply illegal drugs. Nevertheless, those found in possession of small amounts of illegal drugs will not be sent to prison. They will not get a criminal record; instead, they will be fined and sent for treatment.
Countries such as the UK and the US are still focusing on justice instead of treatment. But American drug tsar Michael Botticelli has claimed that addicts should be treated just the same as cancer patients instead of being treated like criminals. Botticelli is a former addict, and he claims that the USAs drugs policies are all wrong. Botticelli said that in order to make a positive change, the White House should look to make huge changes to the way it deals with drugs.
He said, We can’t arrest and incarcerate addiction out of people. We’ve learned addiction is a brain disease. This is not a moral failing. This is not about bad people who are choosing to continue to use drugs because they lack willpower. You know, we don’t expect people with cancer just to stop having cancer.
Half of all Americas prisoners are behind bars for drug-related crimes; according to a number of anti-addiction agencies and prosecutors, prisons inspire addiction. Botticelli believes that policies should be based on science and said, You know, and we’ve had really great models and evaluated models to show that we can simultaneously divert people away from our criminal justice system without an increase in crime. And it actually reduces crime.
Botticelli took up his current role as the Director of National Drug Control Policy in April 2015, but for nine years before that he was Massachusetts Director of Substance Abuse services. During this time, he was behind a pilot scheme that saw police officers treating heroin addicts with an opioid antidote, naloxone, instead of booking them.
He has already started to implement his policy of treatment-based strategy rather than a justice-based one. He has acknowledged that federal funding for addiction prevention and treatment is up and said, We are actually spending more now on domestic public health strategies than we are on incarceration strategies.
He was also keen to point out that addiction is one of the only illnesses that is allowed to reach its peak before treatment is offered. He believes more needs to be done to identify addiction when it is in its early stages so that effective treatment can be provided.
The UK has a similar approach to drugs as the US does in that the issue seems to be treated as a criminal one rather than a health based issue. However, there are many campaigners calling for this to be changed. It is worth remembering that addiction is an illness and, as such, needs to be treated. Nobody chooses to become an addict, just as nobody chooses to be a cancer patient.
Thankfully, there are many organisations in the UK that work tirelessly to ensure that as many addicts as possible can access the treatments they need to beat this terrible illness.