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Treating Addiction

Treating Addiction:

Georgia Governor Gets It

By Ned Wicker

Many times in the past I have used this blog to lament the meaningless political rhetoric surrounding our ever-increasing alcohol/drug addiction problem. States enact “get tough” laws and promise uninformed voters that drug users will get the maximum sentence, but the problem is that jailing every drug offender means catastrophic overcrowding, so getting those people off the streets means crippling our prison system.

Georgia Governor Nathan Deal has the right idea. In his inaugural address in 2011, Deal stressed the need for treatment and alternatives to prison. He called the overcrowding an “unsustainable financial and civic burden on the state.”

Deal has a good outlook on the situation. Of course, with repeat offenders, there has to be consequences, but if you can get people into treatment and get them off the drugs, that’s where the state can really save some money. I’ve long maintained that it treating addiction costs much less to than it does to incarcerate.

Moreover, having long maintained that alcoholism and drug addiction are diseases, treating the disease rather than punishing the one inflicted with it seems a better approach. If people refuse to cooperate, turn down the opportunity to receive treatment, or in some way just decide to manipulate the system and continue using, then I stand with Deal and have no problem treating them harshly.

“For violent and repeat offenders, we will make you pay for your crimes,” Deal said. “For other offenders who want to change their lives, we will provide the opportunity to do so with Day Reporting Centers, Drug, DUI and Mental Health Courts and expanded probation and treatment options. As a State, we cannot afford to have so many of our citizens waste their lives because of addictions. It is draining our State Treasury and depleting our workforce.”

The Atlanta Constitution reported that

“according to a 2009 Office of National Drug Control Policy report, approximately 17% of Georgia's 53,268 prisoners had drug-related offenses listed as their primary offense. Approximately 21% of the active inmate population of the Georgia Department of Corrections also reported a drug abuse problem as of September 2009.”

These numbers are going to vary from state to state, but let’s say you arrest a heroin user and sentence him/her to a prison term. And let’s say that it costs the state $40-$50 thousand per year to house them, give or take depending on the facility and area of the country.

If a person is incarcerated for a couple of years, or is sent back for repeat violations, it is easy to see that he/she could cost the state much more than the cost of a good in-house treatment program. If you can treat that individual and avoid relapse, the savings on those 53,268 prisoners is huge.

You haven’t solved the problem

The problem with just jailing people is simply that you only have a “dry drunk” in jail, and none of the requisite work is being accomplished. They get out and go back to drinking or using. You haven’t solved the problem.

I know there are many who will say that court-ordered treatment isn’t effective because the individual won’t buy into the process, but even court-ordered is a better option because you can at least show somebody the direction they need to go, and while they are in treatment you can explain to them in no uncertain terms that the alternative to successfully completing the program isn’t in their best interest.

Every state has the problem

Every state has to wrestle with this problem, and believe me the lobby against any meaningful reform with me staunch. For example, passing a meaningful drunk driving law here in Wisconsin is difficult, and most all of the discussion centers around punishment.

Getting tough is one thing, but solving the problem is another. It comes down to personal responsibility and people will make their own choices. Each state will have to decide how much help they want to give those people inclined to make the bad choices.

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