Newsflash: Treating Addiction More Effective Than War on Drugs
For years, the government and law enforcement have been fighting a losing battle known as the “War on Drugs”. According to official reports, the United States has spent over $1 trillion since Nixon began the war back in 1971. But finally, the powers-that-be are starting to wake up and realize that the answer for curbing drug addiction isn’t going after the suppliers. it’s attacking the demand by intervening and treating addiction.
Just recently, President Obama put forth an action plan which intends to work at curbing demand instead of just focusing on supply-side efforts, which are wasting resources and filling our prisons to the brim.
The National Institute on Drug Addiction (NIDA) states that “every dollar invested in addiction treatment programs yields a return of between $4 and $7 in reduced drug-related crime, criminal justice costs, and theft. When savings related to healthcare are included, total savings can exceed costs by a ratio of 12 to 1.”
And truthfully, this estimate does not include the societal toll on human lives, including suffering incurred by the addicted and their families.
The NIDA also stresses the gap between those who are affected by addiction and those who actually receive treatment and health care. According to data from 2011, just 1 in 10 get needed treatment from the pool of the addicted, which includes nearly 22 million people 12 years or older who have a substance abuse disorder.
However, it’s not just about any old approach. Treatment rendered must be quality, evidence-based, and holistic. Effectively treating addiction means employing invention – that is, the identification of drug or alcohol addiction as early as possible This needs to be recognized and interrupted not just by families, but also by teachers, social workers, and health care workers.
At this point, critically needed are comprehensive treatment services (including cognitive-behavioral therapy, medication-based treatment, family support, relapse prevention, etc.) which are continuous and long-lasting. However, very few people have access to uninterrupted treatment which is allowed to go on as long as it needs to.
And finally, the effectiveness of treatment must be quantifiable and measured – that is, against self-reports, administrative data, and medical findings. Basically, the patient, clinicians, and the family need to know if the treatment is yielding progress, and if not, what needs to be changed or targeted to garner the desired results.
By now most people know that the United States has the largest prison population in the world. That’s 2.3 million people behind bars. To be clear, that’s greater than the entire population of Botswana. And over half a million of those prisoners are incarcerated for a drug offense.
So have U.S. drug laws reduced drug use at all? Nope. The U.S. is currently #1 worldwide in illicit drug use. What did we learn from alcohol Prohibition? Making substance use a crime doesn’t stop people from using it – it just makes them criminals.
If just one person is helped by the new “War on Addiction”, that will be an improvement over what’s been accomplished by other means.
~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology
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