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Drug offenders need treatment, not jail

When someone gets arrested for a drug-related crime, is putting that person behind bars really the best option? It is often what the authorities seek to do. However, one can make the argument that it would be far better to give these offenders the treatment they need to get over their addictions.

After all, isn't addiction really the reason for the crime? The person may not want to break the law, may not want to use the drugs and may not want to serve time. They just cannot help it.

Addiction is a sickness, a disease. It honestly can control someone's actions. If that person got treatment for the addiction, the crimes that he or she commits due to the addiction would stop.

Isn't that the goal, after all?

What is addiction?

People often feel like drug use is a choice. When they hear about these arrests, they are quick to point out that the person chose to use the drugs. There's a lack of sympathy.

The reality, though, is that experts define this type of addiction as "a chronic disease characterized by compulsive, or uncontrollable, drug seeking and use despite harmful consequences and changes in the brain, which can be long lasting. These changes in the brain can lead to the harmful behaviors seen in people who use drugs."

None of that suggests that drug use, at this stage, is purely a choice. It may have started that way, but it has spiraled out of control and turned into something else entirely. People cannot control their own behavior and they're dealing with long-term changes to the brain itself.

These things can be fixed, but they do not get fixed by putting the person in jail or giving them a fine. Those punishments are normal deterrents for normal crimes. Addiction is not at all normal. Medical professionals have to treat it as an illness. Nothing else can break that hold.

The odds of a relapse

Even if the person does stop using for a time, experts warn that addiction is a disease with frequent relapses. An attempt to quit may last for a short time, but that person will return to the drug eventually.

This is why trying to stop alone often does not work. The person may know the dangers of this lifestyle. They may not want to break the law anymore. But trying to quit leads to relapse after relapse, and they feel like they're getting nowhere.

Your options

If you have gotten arrested for drug crimes because of an addiction, make sure you know what legal options you have. In some cases, drug courts can seek treatment, rather than only punishment.

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Suffolk County Defenders Association New York State Defenders Association | Founded 1967 New York State Bar Association Suffolk County Bar Association | NY 1908

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