Criminalize addiction and you get more criminals; treat addiction and you get community members who help reverse the devastating effects of addiction. It’s something that many in the treatment and medical communities already know. Now, Michigan criminal justice professionals are joining the fight against the opioid epidemic, not by locking up more addicts, but through more effective methods.
Opioid Addiction by the Numbers
Statewide, heroin and opioid deaths are up 10 times in the past 15 years in Michigan. The number of addicts has been skyrocketing and experts have been scrambling to figure out why. Some pieces of the puzzle include:
- Increases in prescription opioid use and abuse. Enough prescriptions for opioids are written in the United States each year to give every adult American their own bottle.
- Accessibility of opioids. After successful crackdowns on key ingredients to make methamphetamines (meth), drug suppliers are finding opioids easier to obtain.
- Low cost of heroin. 4 out of 5 new heroin users started out abusing prescription opioids, but they often report that heroin was cheaper and easier to obtain.
It isn’t just a Michigan problem, either. Nationwide, the United States is in the midst of what professionals are calling an opioid epidemic, with 78 Americans dying every day from an overdose.
A Moral “Crime”
Clearly, from a judicial standpoint, a crackdown on addicts fills up prison cells, but it hasn’t reversed the statistic. Of course, criminal trafficking of drugs and locking up the people who profit from addiction helps decrease supply and possibly deter access, but the treatment of individuals themselves requires a different approach.
Addiction itself is more complicated than simply a moral choice.
Addiction is a disease, with roots that are not entirely known. We do know that there are biological and environmental factors. No child says, “I want to grow up and be addicted to drugs or alcohol.” Many people take a prescription opioid without becoming addicted; however, when it does it can happen very rapidly, with just a few pills, even taken as prescribed, being enough to trigger addiction in some users.
For the millions who do become addicted, effective treatment requires an entire lifestyle overall, uprooting the physical, mental and spiritual factors in addiction.
Effective Criminal Justice
March 14th-15th, 2017, hundreds of criminal justice professionals in Michigan will gather for the Michigan Association of Treatment Court Professionals training conference. Just the name lets you know part of the agenda: treatment court, not drug court, criminal justice professionals who want to see an end to the epidemic.
In Macomb County, police departments and Families Against Narcotics (FAN) have joined together with other organizations for an initiative called, “Hope Not Handcuffs.” Under this program, an individual can walk into a designated police department to get help for addiction treatment, without fear of prosecution. More counties could follow suit.
Another important tool to shore up: MAPS, the Michigan Automated Prescription System. This system should make two important pieces of the puzzle more effective:
- Track individuals purchasing controlled substances so that an addict cannot doctor shop, seeking more opioids.
- Track prescribers so that a doctor, dentist, veterinarian, nurse practitioner, or any of the other many legal prescribers, cannot be a single over-prescriber without raising red flags.
Most medical professionals in every field cooperate with MAPS as they too want to see an end to the epidemic.
3 Steps to End the Epidemic
These initiatives help in the successful 3-pronged approach needed to treat end the opioid epidemic:
- Prevention education—speak to children early and often.
- Access to treatment—end the stigma, provide access.
- Effective treatment—stop the cycle of addiction.
Join the justice community and educate and advocate for addiction treatment.