Letter to the Editor: De-criminalizing and de-stigmatizing drug addiction

Kevin MacMillan’s recent editorial column, “Addiction is a disease,” is a brave and intelligent invitation to an extended dialogue.

Drug addiction is a slow moving train wreck of a public health menace that first infects and then kills, even as family and loved ones, helplessly and often silently, bear witness.

We gaze into the abyss and throw dollars into the yawning maw of a criminal justice system that was never invented to treat addictive illness. Then, our prisons and jails, costing billions annually, overflow with nonviolent offenders, a substantial number of whom evidence primarily or solely drug related offenses.

Instead of understanding that drug addiction is a disease and providing humane treatment resources, we criminalize the addict’s behavior, stigmatize and punish the offender, and wonder why the problem gets worse.

In the 19th century, enlightened culture chained the mentally ill in the darkened corridors of asylums hoping to shock those unfortunates into changing their behavior. It didn’t work. Neither does criminalizing the possession of a politically and arbitrarily defined substance.

There is much we could do if only we have the will. Numerous well researched studies unequivocally document that readily available, competent treatment of drug addiction saves lives and costs far less than punishment and incarceration.

Open acknowledgment that our communities have problems of substance abuse and addiction, coupled with concerted effort to de-stigmatize the problem, change the law, and create appropriate treatment resources would make an enormous difference.

Andrew Whyman, MD

Incline Village

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