Drug treatment urged in criminal justice

Failure to treat incarcerated drug abusers can lead to higher crime rates and re-incarceration, says to a report from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), and the costs of treatment are not nearly as high as the costs to society when drug abuse is ignored.

“Ninety-five percent of those who receive no treatment while incarcerated end up relapsing into drugs. And 70 percent of those end up re-incarcerated as a result,” Dr. Nora Volkow, director of NIDA, said yesterday. “By changing those numbers, we can reduce crime and lower the financial cost. Simply putting a drug abuser in jail without treatment does nothing.”

NIDA said every dollar spent toward effective treatment programs yields a $4 to $7 return in reduced drug-related crime, criminal costs and theft. That return is even greater when health care savings are taken into account, the institute said.

The NIDA report listed 13 research-based principles for substance abuse treatment in the criminal justice population.

“The aim is to provide people with a comprehensive set of principles that ensure that a treatment program will be effective,” Dr. Volkow said in a telephone interview.

The report says drug addiction is a brain disease that affects behavior. In order to correct the damage, it says, treatment must last long enough to produce stable behavioral changes and should be followed by management of the addiction over time.

NIDA said the criminal justice system often ignores such principles and that the majority of drug abusers are incarcerated without treatment.

After enactment of the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, the Federal Bureau of Prisons began providing drug treatment to all eligible inmates before their release from custody. But Dr. Volkow said the number of inmates counted as eligible is far too low.

“Currently only 20 percent that need treatment get treatment,” she said.

Roger H. Peters, chairman of the department of Mental Health Law and Policy at the University of South Florida’s Louis de la Parte Mental Health Institute, said effective treatment is limited by budget concerns.

“We haven’t budgeted enough resources for offenders to receive treatment. We can identify them and are knowledgeable of them but we don’t supply the resources,” he said yesterday. “For instance, in Florida, prison-based substance-abuse treatment has been cut from $11 [million] to $2 million. In addition to treatment, education programs have also been cut.”

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