Hilary Clinton wants to focus on drug addiction treatment instead of incarceration in her own version of the ‘war on drugs’.
While drug policy has rarely been put in the spotlight when it comes to major elections, Hilary Clinton recently announced a $10 billion plan that she would implement in order to reform drug addiction treatment and combat the devastation that addiction causes in America.
Drug Use and Addiction Continues to Devastate the United States of America
The U.S. has been waging a war on drugs for the past four decades, yet rates of drug abuse and overdose continue to rise, while the price of illicit drugs continues to fall, and the country is now faced with two problems: continued addiction and drug-related deaths as well as an overcrowded prison system.
From 2002-2013, rates of illegal substance abuse increased in America, from 8.3% of the population admitting to substance use in 2002 to 9.4% in 2013. In addition, 44,000 people died from drug overdose in 2013.
While not all Americans who use illegal substances will become addicted, of those who do suffer from addiction many do not receive the treatment they need. In 2013, an estimated 22.7 million Americans needed alcohol or drug addiction treatment, but only 2.5 million people received treatment at a specialty facility.
While a variety of factors contribute to this treatment gap, one factor perpetuating problems with receiving drug addiction treatment in America is the stigma placed on addiction. The majority of Americans still believe addiction is a moral failing or personal vice rather than a treatable medical condition.
Both mental illness and addiction are treatable conditions, however people are more likely to view the addict as a bad person, especially because most drug use is illegal.
Incarceration instead of Drug Addiction Treatment: How the Current System is Failing
America has one of the highest rates of incarceration in the world with 707 per 100,000 people behind bars, and a total of over 2 million prisoners as of 2013. Of federal prisoners, half are incarcerated for drug-related offenses.
The number of people behind bars has risen steadily since 1980, as politicians decided to take a ‘tough on crime’ stance. The increased prison population does not reflect the fact that more people are committing crimes, but rather how the system is dealing with them. Mandatory minimum sentences and imprisonment for low level, nonviolent drug offenses have both significantly contributed to increased prison populations.
Moreover, once in prison, inmates are subject to conditions that are less than ideal for rehabilitation, and most do not receive treatment for underlying mental health problems or effective drug addiction treatment. This means high recidivism rates and continued addiction problems for inmates once they are released.
The U.S. spends approximately four times more on incarcerating prisoners than on educating students. The high cost of incarceration, as well as reports indicating that harsher prison sentences and high incarceration rates, actually do little to reduce crime point to the need for a change in tactics.
Despite ongoing stigmatisation of addiction, there has been a shift in the public’s opinion about what consequences drug offenders should receive. In the first study of America’s opinion on drug policy in 13 years, the Pew Research Centre found that 67% of Americans would rather see drug offenders enter drug addiction treatment programmes than be incarcerated.
Hilary Clinton Puts Spotlight on Drug Problem with her $10 Billion Plan
After hearing from voters in Iowa and New Hampshire about the challenges communities and families are facing because of addiction, including outrage at the current system’s failure to adequately address the issue, Hilary Clinton recently announced her proposed plan to combat addiction in America.
The plan is being touted as the most progressive substance abuse plan in decades. It involves prioritising treatment over incarceration for nonviolent drug offenders and providing significant financial support to states that create better programs.
Clinton wrote in an op-ed about her plan,
“It’s time we recognize as a nation that for too long, we have had a quiet epidemic on our hands. Plain and simple, drug and alcohol addiction is a disease, not a moral failing — and we must treat it as such. It’s time we recognize that there are gaps in our health care system that allow too many to go without care — and invest in treatment. It’s time we recognize that our state and federal prisons, where 65 percent of inmates meet medical criteria for substance use disorders, are no substitute for proper treatment — and reform our criminal justice system.”
The biggest aspect of her plan includes spending 7.5 billion on a new federal grant programme. States would get four dollars in federal money for every one dollar in state funds if they develop programmes that address five specific goals.
The goals Clinton asserts that need to be addressed include:
- Prioritising rehabilitation and drug addiction treatment over prison for low-level and nonviolent drug offenders.
- Making more inpatient and outpatient drug addiction treatment options available.
- Ensuring first responders have access to naloxone, which is used to reverse the impact of opiate overdoses.
- Requiring more training and better use of drug-monitoring programmes for people who prescribe drugs.
- Better education for teenagers about drug use and addiction.
In addition, she proposes a 15% increase in funding for existing drug and alcohol abuse prevention programmes, greater enforcement to ensure health insurance pays for drug addiction treatment programmes, and the changing of existing federal regulations that prevent nurse practitioners from prescribing medications to treat opioid addiction.
Savings within the criminal justice system would be used in part to pay for the new plan.
Of course, her plan was not laid out without criticism, but the U.S. is in dire need of a better system to help combat the societal impacts of drug addiction and mass incarceration, and at least Clinton is bringing the issue to the table.
The fact that millions of Americans are living happy and healthy lives in addiction recovery should also be brought into the spotlight. With humane and effective drug addiction treatment options people can overcome addiction. The fact that more and more people, including politicians, are acknowledging that addiction is a treatable disease will hopefully lead to better policies surrounding drug use and how we can best combat it within communities.