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Treatment vs. Incarceration: Why Drug Rehab is More Beneficial than Prison for Drug Offenders

Gordon Dickler Admissions Coordinator

In 1956, the American Medical Association declared addiction a chronic brain disease.   A disease can be defined merely as an abnormality that affects all, or part of an organism, and results in adverse symptoms.  In the case of addiction, the abnormality is manifested in the brain (yes, there are real, observable biological implications!). The symptoms can include everything from cold sweats and tremors, to lying and shoplifting. Because of the morally-charged nature of the symptoms, the disease model of addiction can be a challenging concept for those without first-hand experience to grasp.   I will attempt to shed some light on this: As a result of a disruption in the addicted brain’s reward pathway, an afflicted individual will perceive drug cravings the same way a healthy brain will experience basic survival instincts.  Associated with these survival instincts is an immensely compelling physiological reaction.  Have you ever dove head-first into a swimming pool and grossly misjudged the distance to the water’s surface?  Remember that fleeting sense of panic and disorientation you felt as you scrambled to the surface for air?  An addict experiences this same sensation as the drug leaves their body.  It is a sensation so overpowering that it leads them to, in pursuit of the drug, behave in terrible ways that they never would otherwise.   Anyone with an addicted family member will abundantly confirm this fact. So, now that we’ve explored the concept of addiction as a medical condition let’s take a look at our country’s response to this issue. It is no secret that in the U.S., our approach is overwhelmingly punitive.  The U.S. currently houses around 2.4 million prisoners, nearly half of which are incarcerated for drug-related crimes.  This begs the question, “if addiction is a treatable medical condition, are incarceration and punitive approaches ethically appropriate?”  Do we take these approaches with any other diseases?  Would we incarcerate someone with diabetes for throwing up on our shoes, simply because we don’t like the symptoms?  No, because it would be wrong. Admittedly, this analogy is a bit far-reaching, so if you can’t get on board with this line of thinking, let’s take a look at the numbers… Why Treatment is More Productive than IncarcerationAccording to a study conducted by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, the average cost of placing a participant in a residential treatment center, vocational training and support services was $32,974—half the average cost of $64,338 if the participant had been sent to serve the average term of imprisonment for drug violations.” (justicepolicy.org) Beyond the initial cost of placement, drug treatment has shown to be two to three times more effective in reducing recidivism in the legal system.  So in reality, the savings to our taxpayers is far beyond the above listed numbers. The emergence of our country’s drug court system indicates that, slowly but surely, public policy is evolving to account for this unarguable discrepancy, but addiction continues to be stigmatized in the public eye.  And without popular support, such legislation is likely to be hindered or squashed.  We have a lot of work to do people!  Please share this article with your friends and family.  Educate them.  There are lives at stake! …………………………… Gordon Dickler Admissions Coordinator 203-937-2309 x112 gdickler@tpextendedcare.com Google