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Drug treatment and criminal justice systems must work together | READER COMMENTARY

Staff members Left to right at the Epoch Counseling Center, which provides substance abuse counseling.
Staff members Left to right at the Epoch Counseling Center, which provides substance abuse counseling. (Barbara Haddock Taylor, Baltimore Sun)

The writer of the recent commentary regarding drug treatment centers is very passionate in her ideas about drug treatment (“Drug Policy Alliance: Treatment centers that rely on arrests to get clients seek to profit from pain,” Nov. 3). Scientists, physicians, religious and community leaders have been grappling with finding the best way to treat people addicted to drugs for the past few generations. Relapse is an ongoing issue. These people usually have a dual diagnosis: drug addiction and a psychiatric disorder. The latter has becomes more evident as young people have been much better educated on the danger of the use of addicted drugs than was true in the past when ignorance provided a gateway to addiction.

We must also remember families as well as the wider community have skin in the game as they are the victims of addicts who need to support their habit. We seem to be nearing the point where simple possession of even very dangerous drugs may be decriminalized as is now the case in Oregon. It should come as no surprise that some drug treatment centers have a business model as do the not-for-profit hospitals in Maryland. It is naive to believe that health-centered programs can work without partnering with criminal justice agencies. How many addicts voluntarily submit to drug treatment? My experience tells me that most addicts do better in mandatory treatment. There have been decades of opportunities to prove that voluntary treatment works but the fact is that an addict with a psychiatric problem is unlikely to remain in voluntary treatment.

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It is probably time that we in Maryland decriminalize simple possession. This is a significant change in my thinking, but one must make an effort to do what is best for the addict and the community. Crimes committed by addicts must still be prosecuted, and more treatment modalities and programs must be made available. The writer concentrates on communities of color but we now know that all communities, even rural communities, have suffered from the scourge of drug addiction.

It is true that communities of color suffer from more aggressive policing. There is no end to this addiction, and some will need to continue treatment or participate in Narcotics Anonymous for the remainder of their lives. This is a lifelong struggle that must not be taken lightly as lives are at stake, The reality is that incarceration has saved lives when treatment has at least temporarily failed.

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Edward McCarey McDonnell, Baltimore

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