Friday, March 14, 2014

Daniel Horwitz: Meth users need treatment, not prison

by Daniel Horwitz, The Tennessean, March 14 - Before debating the proper response to Tennessee’s crippling addiction to methamphetamine, there are two universal truths that must first be acknowledged. First, nobody has ever grown up with dreams of becoming a meth addict. Second, if you learned that a loved one had become addicted to methamphetamine, your solution to that problem would not be to have that person arrested and hauled off to Riverbend.
Tennessee doesn’t need new laws criminalizing further what we have already been unsuccessfully criminalizing for decades. What we need is a dramatic rethinking of our approach to drug policy that focuses on treatment rather than punishment, and we need it soon. Meth addiction in Tennessee is a problem that affects all of us. People’s lives — all of our lives — hang in the balance. (read more)

Daniel Horwitz is an attorney in Nashville and a 2013 graduate of Vanderbilt Law School.
My Comment: This is a thought provoking article from Daniel Horwitz. I am in general agreement that people should not be locked up for drug use. I think addicts should be treated rather than imprisoned. And, we should realize that not every casual user of recreational drugs is an addict needing treatment.  I support legalization of marijuana and small fines for other drugs deemed socially harmful. We should look to the success that decriminalization of drug use has had in Portugal and apply that lesson to the U.S. The "war on drugs" is not working.

Meth, however, seems to be so addictive that I wonder if drug treatment programs can work.  People apparently can become addicted to meth after only one use and are willing to abandon their children, steal from their parents, and destroy their health for the next high. It is not a victimless crime. Can users get off meth in an out-patient treatment program? I don't know.  I would want information that shows that out-patient treatment can work.  Maybe, the only way someone can get off  meth is by locking them up and keeping them away from the drug. However, law enforcement has not been able to stamp out meth use and in some parts of the state it is a terrible epidemic that not only destroys the user but contributes to a crime wave and abandoned children.  If law enforcement has failed, it may be time to try another approach. Maybe if other drugs were more easily available, meth would have less appeal and its use would dwindle.

The process of producing meth however is so dangerous that I would not favor reducing the penalty for production of meth.  Meth cooking can cause explosions and fires and danger to the health of children and other people living in the house where meth is produced and it leaves behind an environmental hazard.

At CPAC this year, issues of prison and sentencing reform were a hot topic.  Issues such as mandatory sentencing, restoring voting rights of convicted criminals who have served their time, real job training and rehabilitation, removing restrictions on what careers and professional licensing ex offenders can pursue, use of drug courts, and drug policy were topics of  speeches and panel discussions. Several organization had exhibition booths advocating reforms.  I think there is a realization on the part of conservatives and the public in general that we lock up too many people in this country and that "tough on crime" and mandatory sentencing has failed. One speaker said prisons are training grounds for criminals and he explained how people convicted of minor offenses can come out of prison socialized to be hardened criminals.  One speaker who had spend a career in law enforcement then ran afoul of the law himself and went to prison, said that before he himself went to prison, he thought all people in prison were bad people.  He said he served time with one person who was in prison for selling a whale's tooth on ebay.

I am not sure what we ought to do about meth users but we should explore alternatives to imprisonment and we need to take a hard look at our whole sentencing and imprisonment system.

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  1. From my Army education about substance abuse, the recovery rate for meth addiction is basically statistically insignificant. Combine that with the dangerous method of creating it, and I'm fine with keeping it outlawed.
    I'm game for legalizing marijuana first, and then see how it goes.

  2. I don't know about imprisoning users. That suggestion does make sense. I do believe that sellers of it should be executed.

  3. I find it amazing that people are so quick to stigmatize and cast judgement, when the majority of their knowledge was gained through media sensationalism and hyperbole. Methamphetamine has been around for many years. It can be purchased legally over the counter in most any drug store, no log need to be signed. It is also prescribed under the brand name desoxyn.
    Amphetamines (including methamphetamine) have been and are in use by our military still to this day. Millions of children are prescribed d-amphetamine daily. Contrary to what many think there is very little difference between d-amphetamine and d-methamphetamine.
    Until we learn to gather our knowledge from reliable cite able sources, we will be a media controlled society.