|Drug Abusing Offenders Not Getting Treatment
They Need in Criminal Justice System
Treating Inmates Has Proven Public Health, Safety and
The vast majority of prisoners who could
benefit from drug abuse treatment do not receive it, despite two
decades of research that demonstrate its effectiveness, according
to researchers at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA),
part of the National Institutes of Health. In a report published
today in the Journal of the American Medical Association, NIDA
scientists note that about half of all prisoners (including some
sentenced to non-drug-related offenses) are dependent on drugs,
yet less than 20 percent of inmates suffering from drug abuse or
dependence receive formal treatment.
"Treating drug abusing offenders improves public health and
safety," said NIDA Director and report co-author Dr. Nora
D. Volkow. "In addition to the devastating social consequences
for individuals and their families, drug abuse exacts serious health
effects, including increased risk for infectious diseases such
as HIV and hepatitis C — and treatment for addiction can help prevent
their spread. Providing drug abusers with treatment also makes
it less likely that these abusers will return to the criminal justice
The authors of the report suggest that the criminal justice system
is in a unique position to encourage drug abusers to enter and
remain in treatment, thereby disrupting the vicious cycle of drug
use and crime. In fact, most studies indicate that outcomes for
those who are legally pressured to enter treatment are as good
as or better than outcomes for those who entered treatment without
legal pressure, the researchers noted.
"Addiction is a stigmatized disease that the criminal justice
system often fails to view as a medical condition; as a consequence,
its treatment is not as available as it is for other medical conditions," stated
Dr. Redonna K. Chandler, the report’s principal author and chief
of NIDA’s Services Research Branch.
There are several ways in which drug abuse treatment can be incorporated
into the criminal justice system. These include therapeutic alternatives
to incarceration, treatment merged with judicial oversight in drug
courts, treatments provided in prison and jail, and reentry programs
to help offenders transition from incarceration back into the community.
Some communities cite costs as the reason for not treating offenders;
however the report discusses the economic benefits of treating
drug-involved offenders. "A dollar spent on drug courts saves
about $4 in avoided costs of incarceration and health care; and
prison-based treatment saves between $2 to $6," Chandler
The report emphasizes that addiction is a chronic brain disease:
that repeated drug exposure in those who are vulnerable triggers
brain changes that result in the compulsive drug use and loss of
control over drug related behaviors that characterize addiction.
"Viewing addiction as a disease does not remove the responsibility
of the individual," said Volkow. "It highlights the responsibility
of the addicted person to get drug treatment and society’s responsibility
to make treatment available."
To learn more about the latest research on treatment for drug
abusers in the criminal justice system, download NIDA’s Principles
of Drug Abuse Treatment for Criminal Justice Populations at http://www.drugabuse.gov/PODAT_CJ/principles.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse is a component of the National
Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
NIDA supports most of the world's research on the health aspects
of drug abuse and addiction. The Institute carries out a large
variety of programs to inform policy and improve practice. Fact
sheets on the health effects of drugs of abuse and information
on NIDA research and other activities can be found on the NIDA
home page at www.drugabuse.gov. To order publications in English
or Spanish, call NIDA's new DrugPubs research dissemination center
at 1-877-NIDA-NIH or 240-645-0228 (TDD) or fax or email requests
to 240-645-0227 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) — The Nation's
Medical Research Agency — includes 27 Institutes and Centers
and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
It is the primary federal agency for conducting and supporting basic,
clinical and translational medical research, and it investigates
the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases.
For more information about NIH and its programs, visit www.nih.gov.