The Shift To Treating Drug Addiction As A Public Health Issue, Not A Crime, Is Happening

From the local level on up, alternatives to jailing are being embraced.


There are many signs of progress in how the U.S. responds to opioid and heroin abuse today -- it's been decades in the making.

The shift from connecting addicts to handcuffs to connecting them with help was the subject last week of a four-part series of stories from Boston public radio station WBUR’s Here & Now program.

One story highlights the efforts of Gloucester, Massachusetts, to link individuals addicted to heroin or opiates with treatment rather than legal sanction if they come forward to the local police department. Those who do, as HuffPost reported prior to the program’s launch in June, are assigned an “angel” who guides them through the process. A similar program launched in Seattle in 2011 has seen promising results.

The Gloucester initiative seems to be on that track, too. Since it began, it has attracted 153 people who have started treatment, according to WBUR. 

Despite the progress seen in Gloucester and elsewhere, there are still major disparities in how the criminal-justice and health systems deal with certain addicts, particularly those who come from low-income, black communities.

In another installment in the series, former Baltimore mayor Kurt Schmoke, an advocate for decriminalization since the late 1980s, and The Sentencing Project executive director Marc Mauer pointed out the role that race and class continue to play in conversations around addiction.

“Some people’s children in society get a second chance in life, they get to make mistakes, and other people’s kids don’t,” Mauer told WBUR.


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27 Reasons Why The U.S. Shouldn't Lead The War On Drugs