One of the cornerstones of my approach to working with people who use drugs is to create a safe space where they know they can be honest with me, no matter what. That’s the same for the heroin-addicted felon sleeping under a SW Atlanta bridge as it it is for the CFO in Buckhead who called me last month because her 14 year use of prescription pills has gotten out of her control. I work with both of these people off the books because they are so worried about what would happen if they went “on the record” about their addiction.
Arrest and incarceration don’t cure addiction. The threat of arrest and incarceration makes addiction worse. Someone who fears being arrested for substance use is more likely to engage in higher risk behaviors such as sharing and reusing needles, and less likely to seek medical attention when they need it.
One report from a few years ago by the American Public Health Association found that “…65% of the nation’s inmates meet certain medical criteria for substance abuse and addiction, but only 11% received treatment for their addictions.”
I believe the only way to help people trying to break the cycle of addition is to help them identify and heal their traumas without compounding them with the threat of arrest or incarceration. I want to do more than change lives, I want to change minds, because changing minds changes policies.