Pubdate: Sun, 30 Jul 2000
Source: Herald American (NY)
Address: P.O. Box 4915, Syracuse, N.Y. 13221-4915
Contact:  2000, Syracuse Post-Standard
Author: Nicolas Eyle, executive director, ReconsiDer: Forum on Drug Policy


The opening two sentences in Sunday's editorial about drug courts (Treat or
Punish ? ) prompt some important questions not discussed in the piece. "The
law can regard drug addiction as a crime to be punished.

Or the law can regard drug addiction as a disease to be treated."

First of all, if the law regards drug addiction as a disease, an idea
questioned by many in the medical profession, does the law have the right to
sentence those afflicted?

What other disease does the law force into treatment?

Cancer? Diabetes? By definition, a disease is a personal medical or public
health problem, not a law-enforcement problem.

According to Judges Tormey and McKinney, if someone enrolled in this program
fails to meet the conditions and requirements (they fall off the wagon and
use drugs) "they go right back to the justice system -- and likely to jail."
What other disease treatment program throws patients out if they have a

If someone undergoing chemotherapy for cancer fails to show up for an
appointment, are they denied further treatment?

If a diabetic stops giving himself his insulin injections, is he punished by
the doctor?

If we are going to regard drug addiction as a disease we must be consistent
and treat it as one. Diseases are not crimes, no matter how unpopular they

The effectiveness of court-mandated treatment is presented as unquestionably
effective when a close look at the numbers don't bear this out. Onondaga
County has one of the highest arrest rates for drug offenses of any county
in the state.

Over 2000 arrests last year for marijuana alone, yet the statistics cited
for this county's successes with their experiments with drug courts are
based on only 300 cases! Let's not be so quick to accept these numbers as

While there is little question that treatment is cheaper than prison,
neither is particularly effective at reducing drug use. Arizona has had drug
courts in place for many years and recently completed a comprehensive study
of how well it's working.

The numbers are worth looking at:

The Arizona study was reported in the press as having a 78% success rate.
Actually, that figure is rather misleading. If you define success as having
the offender successfully complete the program, the rate drops to less than
22%. What the study says is this: "Of the 932 probationers completing a
treatment program, 61.1% completed that program successfully." Note, that's
the percentage of probationers who completed a treatment program, not who
"entered" the program.

In that context the number is much less impressive. The report also says:"
2,622 probationers began participation in ... substance abuse treatment
during Fiscal Year 1998."

That means 932 out of 2,622, or 35.5%, completed their treatment program,
and only about 569 -- 21.7% -- of that original 2,622 successfully completed
their programs.

This hardly supports the idea that court-mandated treatment serves to reduce
drug use.

Another factor contributing to the confusion is the government's policy of
considering all use abuse.

All studies show that the percentage of users of drugs who actually become
addicted is somewhere in the 10-20% range.

Therefore, the majority of those arrested are not "addicted" in the first

This fact alone makes all studies on the success of mandated treatment
programs questionable.

I am not suggesting that treatment for certain drug users is a bad idea. I'm
certainly not suggesting that prison is a better solution.

I'm glad to see that, after years of ReconsiDer's suggesting that prison is
not the solution to our drug problem, so many respected jurists are coming
over to our way of thinking.

What I am suggesting is that the drug "problem" in America is growing year
after year (more than half of high school seniors admit to having used an
illegal drug in the past year) and we need to slow down and thoroughly study
new ideas proposed to reverse this tide. If we don't we will spend years
trying out some poorly thought-out plan only to find that we still have the
same problem five years down the road.


Nicolas Eyle, executive director
ReconsiDer: Forum on Drug Policy
205 Onondaga Ave.
Syracuse, New York 13207-1439
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MAP posted-by: Don Beck