The Times 

Substance use disorder Is a public health issue, not a criminal justice issue

 

April 13, 2023



Substance abuse disorders pose a heavy societal burden, endangering individuals and families and sapping resources from healthcare and multi-disciplinary systems. It tears through communities impacting everyone.

Historically most strategies for addressing substance use disorders have centered on punishment; we have known for decades that addiction is a medical condition, a treatable brain disorder, not a character flaw or a form of social deviance.

The rising number of drug overdose deaths and the changing legal status of drugs pose new challenges and represent a major shift in mentality. There has been growing evidence and support for the idea that public policy should emphasize preventing and treating substance use disorders through public and individual health interventions rather than excessive reliance on criminalization and incarceration.

Evidence suggests that diverting addicted offenders into court-supervised treatment programs instead of imprisoning them can reduce recidivism and save taxpayers millions of dollars.

It is imperative as a community to support initiatives to increase the behavioral health workforce, implement evidence-based prevention and stigma-reduction programs, and encourage treatment of substance use disorders among incarcerated persons and diversion programs for those with nonviolent drug arrests.

Substance use disorder is a chronic medical condition and should be managed by expanding evidence-based public and individual health initiatives to prevent, treat, and promote recovery.

Theresa Eier RN

Dayton, Wash.

 

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