“Heroin started rewiring and taking control of Will’s brain in the early 2000s, as he turned 40.
“Back then, if you used drugs people didn’t want anything to do with you,” Will recalls. “People gave up on me.”
Will lost almost everything: jobs, his driver’s license, his car, his marriage and his home. He found enough temporary work to pay rent on a room, ate at soup kitchens, and stole and resold goods for cash.
“Feeding that addiction,” he says. “Feeding that monster.”
We’re only using Will’s first name because future landlords or employers might not take him based on his record.
The game changer
One morning almost three years ago, with no heroin and no money to buy any, Will went into withdrawal. This former basketball player, once in top shape, dragged himself down the street searching for a deal. He had some crack that he could sell. The buyer was an undercover cop.
“That was the game changer,” Will says.
Instead of prison, Will was sent to a daily probation program in Massachusetts called Community Corrections. It’s one sign of what has changed in the 50 years since President Richard Nixon declared the War on Drugs. It ended up targeting people with Black or brown skin, like Will.
“In the early 1970s when this so-called War on Drugs was started, it really functioned much more as a war on the people addicted to drugs,” says Dr. Stephen Taylor, an addiction psychiatrist in Birmingham, Ala.
The Massachusetts program launched 25 years ago as a remedy for prison overcrowding. But attitudes about drug users were beginning to shift too.
“There was a pivot toward this idea of substance use disorder as a disease rather than merely some kind of a lack of willpower,” says Vin Lorenti, director of community corrections for the Massachusetts Probation Service.
From 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Friday, Will was required to participate in counseling and other elements of addiction treatment. He had classes on anger management, problem-solving and job training.
Massachusetts has 18 such centers. Today, three-quarters of people sent to community corrections in Massachusetts have a history of drug use. Since they live at home the cost is a fraction of incarceration. And only about half the people in this program reoffend, compared with those leaving prison.
Gaps and disparities
Marc Levin with the Council on Criminal Justice says most states have an alternative path for drug users charged with minor offenses. There are police departments that offer immediate placement in addiction treatment, drug courts and other community-based options such as the one Will entered. But while some drug users are offered treatment instead of punishment for petty crimes, Levin says, others are still sent to jail.
“We really have to hit the accelerator when it comes to these alternatives,” says Levin, who directs policy for the council. “They are on the books across the country, but when you actually look at the utilization, particularly in rural areas, that’s where you really see gaps and disparities.”…..
View the whole story here: https://www.npr.org/2021/06/19/1006229180/addiction-treatable-disease-discrimination