The head of a prime federal drug company is criticizing the continued coverage of criminalizing individuals for drug use and is suggesting that the federal government ought to as an alternative take into account a coverage of decriminalization.
Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), penned an essay for the journal Health Affairs that’s titled “Addiction Should Be Treated, Not Penalized.” It lays out the case in opposition to incarcerating individuals over low-level drug offenses and looking out on the situation as a public well being matter.
While it stops in need of explicitly endorsing decriminalization, Volkow says that the present system results in disproportionate enforcement in opposition to communities of coloration and may really enhance the danger of overdose deaths.
“Drug use continues to be penalized, despite the fact that punishment does not ameliorate substance use disorders or related problems,” she said. “Imprisonment, whether for drug or other offenses, actually leads to much higher risk of drug overdose upon release.”
“We have known for decades that addiction is a medical condition—a treatable brain disorder—not a character flaw or a form of social deviance,” Volkow continued within the essay, which was first printed by Health Affairs late final month and republished on NIDA’s web site on Friday. “Yet, despite the overwhelming evidence supporting that position, drug addiction continues to be criminalized. The US must take a public health approach to drug addiction now, in the interest of both population well-being and health equity.”
In @Health_Affairs weblog, Dr. Volkow makes the evidence-based case on how drug #criminalization disproportionately harms Black communities & exacerbates well being disparities. A public well being strategy to #addiction is required. https://t.co/6w1awINIRb pic.twitter.com/ty9GfrlWtg
— NIDAnews (@NIDAnews) April 27, 2021
The NIDA head identified how individuals of coloration have been “disproportionately harmed by decades of addressing drug use as a crime rather than as a matter of public health.” Citing disparities in how opioid criminalization has been enforced and legal guidelines punishing crack extra harshly than powder cocaine, Volkow mentioned these are examples of “racial discrimination that have long been associated with drug laws and their policing.”
What makes these admissions notable is the supply from which they’re coming. While NIDA is thought amongst advocates as a supply of resistance to reforms corresponding to ending marijuana prohibition, its director sides with them on the basic precept that substance misuse shouldn’t be criminalized.
“The damaging impacts of punishment for drug possession that disproportionately impact Black lives are wide ranging. Imprisonment leads to isolation, an exacerbating factor for drug misuse, addiction, and relapse,” the director mentioned. “It also raises the risk of early death from a wide variety of causes.”
Volkow additionally mentioned that past incarceration, merely being arrested for marijuana possession “can leave the individual with a criminal record that severely limits their future opportunities such as higher education and employment.” And that enforcement development hurts black individuals greater than white individuals regardless of comparable charges of consumption.
“This burden reinforces poverty by limiting upward mobility through impeded access to employment, housing, higher education, and eligibility to vote,” she mentioned. “It also harms the health of the incarcerated, their non-incarcerated family members, and their communities.”
These statements ostensibly lend themselves to a hurt discount coverage place in favor of decriminalization, however Volkow doesn’t particularly say that’s the route lawmakers ought to take. Instead, she says that analysis “is urgently needed to establish the effectiveness and impact of public health–based alternatives to criminalization, ranging from drug courts and other diversion programs to policies decriminalizing drug possession.”
To that finish, NIDA is “redoubling its focus on vulnerabilities and progression of substance use and addiction in minority populations,” she mentioned. “We are exploring research partnerships with state and local agencies and private health systems to develop ways to eliminate systemic barriers to addiction care.”
The company is “also funding research on the effects of alternative models of regulating and decriminalizing drugs in parts of the world where such natural experiments are already occurring,” Volkow mentioned, presumably referencing nations corresponding to Portugal which have stopped criminalizing individuals over easy possession.
“People with substance use disorders need treatment, not punishment, and drug use disorders should be approached with a demand for high-quality care and with compassion for those affected,” she mentioned. “With a will to achieve racial equity in delivering compassionate treatment and the ability to use science to guide us toward more equitable models of addressing addiction, I believe such a goal is achievable.”
While NIDA won’t be broadly thought of a champion of progressive drug coverage, its director has beforehand conceded that current federal drug legal guidelines aren’t working.
In 2019, for instance, she acknowledged that the Schedule I standing of marijuana and different medicine makes it “very difficult” for researchers to study the benefits and risks of those substances.
“Indeed, the moment that a drug gets a Schedule I, which is done in order to protect the public so that they don’t get exposed to it, it makes research much harder,” Volkow mentioned throughout a House Appropriations subcommittee listening to. “This is because [researchers] actually have to through a registration process that is actually lengthy and cumbersome.”
She additionally mentioned the potential benefits and risks of cannabis at a congressional listening to final 12 months.
NIDA can also be one of many fundamental businesses behind a brand new growth in federally sanctioned marijuana analysis. After requesting public enter final 12 months on an ordinary THC unit for cannabis research, it introduced final week that it had reached a dedication to set the standard at five milligrams of THC per dosage.