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Drug treatment under the drug war:
irrational and inhumane

In a drug policy debate dominated by rhetoric at the expense of facts, treatment for addicts in need is perhaps an inevitable casualty. Even in pragmatic terms, the realities of drug treatment are troubling. Studies tell us that the failure rate of most treatment programs is at least 80%, that most addicts who try to abstain fall off the wagon at least once, and often several times before successfully kicking their habits, and that some people never manage to stop. And yet it is also clear that the costs to society of providing inadequate treatment or no treatment at all are far greater in the long run. As a recent report from the Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse has noted, imprisoning addicts and criminals with drug addictions, and leaving their addictions untreated, is both expensive and ineffective.

Yet another problem with treatment is that our notions of recovery, success, and failure in addiction and treatment are often beholden to political ideologies and social norms that may have no basis in fact whatsoever. This is particularly troublesome in the United States, where an extreme social attitude toward substances -- that all drug use is abuse and that abstinence is the only correct path for all individuals -- is often coupled with a resistance toward public spending on drug treatment programs that are seen as a form of welfare.

These contradictory ideas have resulted in a system which on the one hand makes treatment compulsory for some who may neither need it nor want it, such as in mandatory drug "diversion" treatment for people convicted of drug possession whether the defendant is addicted to drugs or not, and on the other hand leaves desperate addicts who really want treatment stranded on waiting lists for months.

A rational drug policy would investigate, experiment with, and promote a wide range of treatment options to reach the greatest number of addicted persons, even if that included treatment programs which focused on stabilizing the addict within the context of active drug use at the expense of an insistence upon abstinence. A humane drug policy would provide treatment on demand for all who desire it and for those who need it most. These are ideas that are gaining currency around the world, but have until recently been conspicuously absent from the drug policy debate in the United States.

Visit the links on the right to learn more about conventional drug treatment in the United States, and to read about methadone maintenance treatment or other drug prescription and maintenance strategies.


National organizations:

Join Together A resource center for communities working to reduce substance abuse and gun violence. Includes a database of treatment professionals for networking, funding information, and current treatment & policy newsbites.

more membership and professional organizations, and local volunteer opportunities...

US Drug Czar seeks expansion of methadone treatment (Oct. 02, 1998)

more news...

coming soon

Read Common Sense for Drug Policy's Factbook on drug treatment

Read The Discovery of Addiction A geneaology of American ideas about addiction by Harry G. Levine, from the Lindesmith Center online library


See also

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