North Texas Daily

We need to treat addiction as a health issue, not a criminal one

We need to treat addiction as a health issue, not a criminal one

April 07
02:36 2016

Morgan Sullivan | Staff Writer


A Texas town made headlines recently for a stint on Facebook, where the local police department sent out a message urging all heroin and cocaine users to come to the police station and get their drugs tested for Ebola. Although some might find this humorous, it delves into a deeper problem the United States has – one where nearly half of federal prisoners are held for drug crimes, according to

Compared to the rest of the world, the U.S. has some of the strictest and draconian of drug laws. In many other parts of the world, drug crimes are treated as a public health issue, not a criminal one. If the war on drugs, as well as the failed eighteenth amendment, has proven anything, it’s that prohibition is not an answer to the complicated question of substance abuse. Governments have a responsibility to their constituents to actually deal with the issue at hand – not simply lock up anyone and everyone caught with drugs.

After all, it is called drug addiction for a reason. In another vein of thinking, a town in Massachusetts is piloting a program dedicated to helping those in need, instead of putting them in handcuffs. The program is simple – if you or someone you know is struggling with a drug problem, simply come to the police station and ask for help. The officers will even dispose of drugs or paraphernalia for users. No one gets arrested. No one is charged with a crime. Help is set in motion.

This idea is revolutionary for the U.S., but not so much everywhere else in the world. Most countries in the European Union treat drug use as the aforementioned public health issue. The Netherlands, Germany and Denmark have even opened “fix rooms” where serious drug users can bring their illegal drugs and consume them under supervision of a nurse.

Portugal decriminalized all drugs in 2000, and in 2001 began focusing on treating drug addiction. People caught with drugs that can be consumed in 10 days or less are referred to special courts known as “commissions for drug addiction dissuasion,” instead of being sent to criminal trials.

Even China, which has a system of justice often bordering on authoritarian, treats drug crimes as a minor administrative offense. The powerful punishments allow the government to send people deemed as “drug addicts” to compulsory detoxification for up to three years.

Basically, the world apart from the U.S. sees drug addiction for what it is: a health issue. When you pull a muscle while running, the doctor doesn’t reprimand you on your bad form. Drug addiction is a serious epidemic plaguing our country. Drug addiction should be treated like every other addiction: with compassion and without judgment.

We’ll never better our country if we continue locking away thousands of people who could improve our society, but are disenfranchised because they are unable to find help. Potential thinkers, painters, carpenters, architects, teachers and mathematicians are sentenced to waste their days in cells instead of overcome addiction and change our world because of how we treat substance abuse. It’s time to change that. 

Featured Image: Courtesy | Wikimedia Commons

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