Experts in Addiction Treatments

People with drug problems need health care, not prison

18th July 2011

“People with drug problems need health care, not prison.”

Sir Richard Branson 17th June 2011

So last week the news broke that a large number of high profile people were backing a new initiative calling for a different approach to the war on drugs, suggesting it to be a health problem and not a criminal justice one.

Yesterday, Sir Richard Branson was interviewed by the Daily Mirror –

Music to my ears!
Despite being someone with a rather chequered history that involved plenty of illegal drug use and crime (successfully not getting caught approximately 99% of the time), and being an advocate for drug and alcohol rehabilitation and addiction recovery, I am so pleased to read what Sir Richard Branson is saying here.

By using examples of Western European countries where the policy of decriminalisation has shown significant and major changes in drug using habits adds much credibility to the argument. Governments love statistics and evidence-based research.

One thing my own experience has shown me is that youth cultures and excitable growing-up teenagers will experiment with plenty of things that they perceive to bring them happiness. Alcohol and drugs, just like sexual experimentation and smoking cigarettes are clear examples of these. It’s a badge of honour to loose your virginity before the legal age of 16, and the attitude of it being a cool thing to smoke behind your parents, guardians and teachers back goes to strengthen this point of view further.

I know I for one was doing my best to do everything possible that gave me pleasure without any consideration for legal consequences what so ever, although strangely, I did always seem to have some awareness and justification about personal health issues caused by whatever I was doing. Seeing no harm from promiscuous sex, smoking, drinking and many legal drugs allowed me to justify to myself that the “system / government” had it wrong, thus pulling me further away from society and the institutions of family, community, employment, etc. The only health harms that were clearly evident to me were solvent abuse. I knew just how toxic sniffing glue or Tipex thinners were affecting my lungs (at least I thought I knew) and my experiment with such drugs was limited to around 2 years, although when I got clean in 2001 I was 29 years old, and initially believed it was all to do with my deteriorating health situation (although actually, there were other emotional, psychological and spiritual matters at work too).

So, it is in complete agreement with Sir Richard Branson and the rest of the Global Drug Commission that I say before you that despite the longer term health harms that alcohol and drugs cause the individual, taking out the criminal element is the right thing. Criminalising a behaviour which causes harm to others is the right thing to do. But criminalising a behaviour which causes harm only to oneself is not appropriate, only leads to alienation and in turns, inevitably drives people to places where crime is committed, initially only harming oneself, but with time causing harm to others, etc, etc.

This is actually an ever increasing spiral of destruction, which is unable to halt itself until the individual absolutely submits (goes into treatment and accepts help through an abstinence based programme), dies as a result of the unbreakable addiction cycle, or is placed in some form of isolated unit, away from the possibility to use (though very likely to use again, once released).

You see addiction is a mental health problem, expressed through an obsession to use, no matter what. But it’s also a physical health issue; unable to stop using once I’ve begun, through some form of compulsion. This is then compounded further, and is perhaps it’s greatest tragedy through its manifestation spiritually, or lack thereof, as it leads the afflicted to a point of such isolation that crime and negative social consequences become inevitable.

However, decriminalising addiction and drugs, gives society of much greater chance of helping addicts along their journey without stigmatising or excluding them. This in turn will allow addicts to step out of the whole cycle much earlier in their journey through life – active in their addiction or not.

I may have missed out a large chunk detailing more precisely how everyone and everything, specifically the addicted, is compromised through the criminal justice system in our current format of government policy, but I hope I’ve begun to get the point across – that treating addicts as criminals is only ever going to breed more criminals. Treating addiction as a health issue actually allows us a fighting chance to rehabilitate our loved ones much earlier on in their cycle of addiction.

Please contact me to discuss matters further.
Ian Young

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