Maria Lockwood’s piece, Rash of Douglas County property crimes fueled by drug use, makes the important points that focusing on law enforcement in addressing the rise in drug-related crime isn’t a silver bullet and that "as soon as distribution of one drug is hampered, another rushes in to fill the vacuum." It raises two critical issues often overlooked in government efforts to address this seemingly intractable problem. First addiction is a complex brain disease that requires evidence-based medical treatment. While individuals who commit crimes as a result of alcohol and other drug use should be held accountable, in no other case does society address a disease through incarceration. Of the 2.3 million inmates in U.S. prisons, 65 percent meet diagnostic criteria for addiction, yet only 11 percent of inmates with addiction receive any type of treatment during incarceration. Without effective intervention, substance-involved offenders are likely to end up back in prison. Second, we must open our eyes to the fact that the problem is the disease of addiction itself, not the particular way it is manifested in a given population or community or at a given time. Failing to address the underlying disease simply results in a costly and circular game of whack-a-mole where success at cracking down on one substance simply is met by the emergence of a different drug "epidemic" soon after. Until our nation aligns its approach to helping those with addiction with approaches offered for other health problems, we will continue to find that where there is addiction, there not only is crime, but many other costly health and social consequences.
Linda Richter, PhD
Associate Director, Division of Policy Research and Analysis
The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASAColumbia)