Letter to the Daily Local News
January 10, 2013
To the Editor:
Michael Price’s piece Police: Find drug addiction and crime is sure to follow (January 6, 2013) makes the important point that focusing on prevention rather than law enforcement in addressing the rise in addiction, particularly among young people, is a necessary component of reducing drug-related crime. Missing in this discussion, however, is the need for evidence-based treatment for those who already are addicted. Addiction is a complex brain disease that requires medical attention. While individuals who commit crimes as a result of alcohol and other drug use should be held accountable, in no other case does our society address a disease through incarceration and doing so for addiction clearly has not reduced the rates of substance use, addiction, or associated criminal behavior. Of the 2.3 million inmates in U.S. prisons, 65 percent meet medical criteria for addiction; another 20 percent--while not meeting these criteria are substance-involved--they have histories of addiction, were under the influence of alcohol or other drugs at the time of their crime, committed their offense to get money to buy drugs, were incarcerated for an alcohol or other drug law violation, or shared some combination of these characteristics. In spite of these facts, only 11 percent of inmates with addiction receive any type of treatment during incarceration and without effective intervention or treatment, odds are that substance-involved offenders will end up back in prison. Until our nation aligns its approach to those with addiction with that offered for other health problems, police, educators, parents, health professionals, and society at large 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)