In the public and media sphere, the debate between ‘moral failings’ and disease continues even though the medical community and even World Health Organization (WHO) have long since classified addiction as a health problem. Luckily, while the media unfortunately allows opinions to be aired alongside is ostensibly the base of factual knowledge science and medicine has researched and proven that completely ignore said research, Pennsylvania is beginning to move into action based on the findings of addiction research.
Since 1971, addiction has been lumped into the crime category due to the zero tolerance policies introduced by the Nixon administration’s War on Drugs. However, by the mid 1980s, some states had learned that this was not solving the problem of addiction or drug distribution. Florida was essentially forced to implement ‘drug courts’ which were specialized in handling low level offenses of citizens of drugs were involved because they were quickly running out of prison space and cops were being pulled off more important jobs because of processing and booking of low level offenders instead of dealers, effectively clogging the system.
The program was highly successful in not only reducing the overall crime rate (citizens were never not arrested for their possession, but if sent to ‘drug court’ would be immediately put on a drug treatment program and assigned probation which monitored their drug use) and helped law enforcement more effectively handle the distribution and sales of drugs more exclusively.
Now, SecondChancesPA is trying out a pilot program which may be the next evolution of the ‘drug court’ and maybe more importantly a shift in how substance use disorders are looked at by the public. The program, being trialed in Lancaster and brainchild of former addict Christopher Dreisbach who is now CEO of SecondChancesPA, is seeking to avoid court altogether by creating an intervening opportunity at the point where that person might be arrested and also includes EMT workers called out for similar incidents.
“People who are suffering from addiction and police officers historically see each other as the enemy,” Ed Cunningham, Elizabethtown’s police chief commented. “We want to knock down that stigma from both sides; help the officers see that these are regular people who have a problem and help the people who are struggling with addiction see that police are just regular people who are looking to help.”
While the program isn’t exactly orthodox compared to day to day actions of police officers across the country, everyone involved with program are confident that it will be successful and possibly influence other states and maybe even Federal level organizations to rethink the entire approach to both addiction and drug law enforcement. For nearly fifty years, the country has tried ‘tough love’ toward the problem and hasn’t done much to affect change except in the area of number of prisoners who might otherwise have been helped more from rehabilitation and treatment than being locked away.
Addiction is a chronic illness that affects millions of Americans yearly and resulted in the deaths of over 70,000 citizens to overdose alone, without taking into account substance use related illnesses that accompany addiction. If you or someone you know seeks addiction treatment in PA, Philadelphia Counseling Center (610-298-1999) can help you find alcohol rehab, drug rehab and detox centers.