New Study Touts Treatment Over Punishment for Drug Offenses

Drug use is a common thread among criminals in the nation's urban centers. 

Posted: 05/17/2012 04:20 PM EDT
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A new government study finds that drug use and crime go hand in hand in 10 of the largest cities in the nation, with more than half of the adult males arrested testing positive for drugs.


Obama administration officials believe the the 2011 Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring Annual Report (ADAM II) from the Office of National Drug Control Policy echoes the importance of adopting an overall approach of treating drug use as a disease that can be treatable.


NDCP director Gil Kerlikowske said the survey highlights attempts to push policies that break the cycle of drug use, arrest, incarceration and re-arrest. “The criminal justice system is important but we cannot arrest our way out of the drug problem," he said at a roundtable annoucing the results. "The administration is working to reform the system to adjust to what we know now.”


Among the findings, Atlanta came in at the bottom of the list, with 64 percent of those arrested testing positive for drug use. At the top of the list, 81 percent of survey participants in Sacramento, California, used drugs in the days leading up to committing a crime.


The administration has pushed a number of efforts to change the way we think about drugs and criminal justice. Kerlikowske said more than $30 billion has been spent on drug treatment and prevention since 2009, drug courts have offered treatment as an alternative to incarceration for more than 120,000 people a year, and more than 18 states have reclassified drug-sentencing laws and reauthorized drug treatment and prevention programs.


Redonna Chandler of the National Institute on Drug Abuse sees the survey as an incentive to rely less on emotion and more on evidence to inform efforts to deal with drug abuse and addiction. She said, ”When someone is involved in the criminal justice system, it provides an opportunity for intervention. But only about 8 percent of the five million people who can benefit from treatment actually receive it.”


Kerlikowske offered some reasons to be hopeful about the progress that has been made to combat the scourge of drug use. “It is often easy to forget we are doing better. The overall rate of drug use has dropped by one third, cocaine use has dropped by 40 percent, and meth use has dropped by half,” he said.


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(Photo: Eric Thayer/Getty Images)

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