Feb 26, 2008

"But for now, the battle goes on."

"What Addicts Need" is the featured cover story of this week's Newsweek, focusing on new developments and insights into the treatment of drug addiction and substance abuse disorders. Scientific developments in treating addiction with a possible "addiction vaccine" make for an interesting read, but it is the subset article titled, "And Now, Back in the Real World," that I found most interesting -- it higlights what communities and public institutions are doing to grapple with the problem of drug addiction and drug-fueled crime in the absence of a medical vaccine or miracle drug.

The article repeats some often discussed statistics; despite the frequency of their use, they still are shocking:
Between 2000 and 2006, the number of drug offenders in federal prison jumped 26 percent, to 93,751. An additional 250,000 are incarcerated in state facilities and thousands more sit in local jail cells.
At an average cost of roughly $25,000 per year to incarcerate an individual, that translates to about $8.6 billion spent each year on incarcerated drug offenders. This figure does not take into account thousands more offenders incarcerated for crimes other than drug offense, but whose addiction fuels their offenses (like stealing to support a drug habit). Most agree that incarceration does not help people overcome their addiction or end the cycle of criminal behavior.

The article describes how the courts are trying to change this pattern by creating programs, like our collaborative courts, that can rehabilitate offenders and reduce recidivism:

The most ambitious program so far is California's Proposition 36, which offers convicted nonviolent drug offenders family counseling and job training in addition to treatment. Since the initiative was approved by voters in 2000, more than 36,000 people have been diverted into treatment every year.
Though there are some successes, the challenges are great. Newsweek does a good job bringing attention to some of the biggest problems, like high drop-out rates and a lack of adequate funding.
Even as attitudes shift, the federal government still budgets far more for stopping drug flow and enforcing drug laws ($8.3 billion this year) than it does for treatment and prevention ($4.6 billion). Treatment programs are un derstaffed. Medications like methadone help some addicts, but harm others. Quitting is a grueling proposition. As a result, less than 10 percent of people who need treatment actually get it. And the proportion of people staying in treatment is "horrendously low," says David Gustafson of the Network for the Improvement of Addiction Treatment. New science may change all that one day. But for now, the battle goes on.

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