Finally! A sitting Surgeon General has declared addiction to be a public health crisis. Vivek Murthy said this about the issue in a statement he released:
“Not as a moral failing, but as a chronic illness that must be treated with skill, urgency and compassion. The way we address this crisis is a test for America.”
This is great news for people who are affected by this disease. Many people still don’t view it as an illness; they think it’s just a choice. Mental health professionals already knew this, but it helps to have the government see it that way. My own therapist, Jane, said:
“It’s been a crisis for some time. One reason is the availability of substances but another is the continuing stigma of blaming those that are sick. It is extraordinarily painful to be blamed for something you cannot stop alone. And mental health treatment is so very limited. Educating people about addiction and options for help is the answer. We will NEVER be able to control access with the ill conceived ‘War on Drugs.’ It has become the ‘War on Addicts’!”
This new announcement will likely affect the criminal justice system because a lot of addicts end up in jail or prison.
In the last year, 48 million Americans abused drugs or alcohol. Over 21 million currently suffer from substance abuse disorders. As many as 300,000 prison inmates are currently in federal or state prisons for drug convictions.
Mental health professionals agree that jail is not the place for people suffering from addiction. We need to invest in public treatment programs. Jails are ineffective and expensive places for someone to get addiction treatment.
Fellow Liberal America author and editor, JC Torpey, said,
In my experiences as a recovering addict, the struggle to stay clean is tough. Doing it in jail or prison is impossible, and it is the least effective way to treat addiction. Especially where heroin and other opiates are concerned. Addicts wind up in jails and state prisons for smaller crimes, and then start detoxing. Cold turkey detoxing, as it is called, is not healthy, and it is not safe either for the addict or the prison. After a day or two, the addict starts going into a massive withdrawal. This type of detox encourages the addict to seek out drugs in prison, and encourages the guards and other staff to oblige – leading to increased corruption inside the prison walls, and showing addicts that anything is available (for a price of course).
And in most jails and prisons, what an addict wants, an addict gets.
Finally treating addicts and our disease as a disease – and not a moral failing – might finally help the justice system rid itself of unnecessary, non-violent prisoners, as well as remove the temptation from its staff to get the prisoners whatever they want. It will help to root out the bulk of its own corruption, and allow the addict to get the help that they really need that they can’t get in prison.
Criminologist Mona Lynch, says:
“The criminal-justice system is, of course, a really expensive way to deliver healthcare [sic]. The punitive side of it can be counterproductive, particularly for addicts.”
If we can get addicts into real treatment systems, then maybe there won’t be so many in jails or prisons, and the’ll get the help they need and deserve.
Here is a news clip with the Surgeon General:
Featured image via Twitter.