Addiction awareness is an extremely important issue our nation is dealing with. The disease of addiction is one that is deemed “punishable” in today’s day and age. The thought being that by sending them to jail, whether it be for possession, or any one of the situations that come with it, will fix the problem. However, in many cases, it only exacerbates the problem.
Incarceration teaches citizens that the disease is not the problem, getting caught is. The criminal justice system does not recognize drug addiction as a disease, it treats it as a punishable offense. Rather than sending first time offenders to jail we should be providing resources and help to combat addiction, and teaching coping skills to help with any mental health issues.
The consequences of addiction run deep. Not only does addiction affect the person directly, but it also affects their family, friends, and almost any person they are acquainted with. It can also cause a person to lose their job and potentially lead to homelessness. When a person is battling addiction, he or she is not thinking logically, but is thinking about getting the next high and will go to extreme lengths to achieve that high. Oftentimes, this includes breaking the law. Whether it be by stealing from a loved one or robbing a stranger, the only thing that matters is getting that drug of choice. This will often lead to trouble with the law. Once a person is in jail, the consequences of that person’s choices now affect society – we, the taxpayers, are helping to pay for their time in prison. This also adds to an already overcrowded criminal justice system, and often this person’s indiscretion against the law will follow them for the rest of their life.
As previously stated, a solution to this crisis would be early intervention and education about mental health, and how when left untreated or unrecognized, can lead to a higher risk of that person turning to drugs as a coping mechanism. Instead of punishing people on their first offense, we need to provide resources and other options to deal with their problems and most importantly, that they matter. Let them hear from people in recovery, teach them cohesive coping skills, and teach them that it is okay to ask for help.