Substance Use Disorder: A Criminalized Illness
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Fifty years after the onset of the “War on Drugs”, evidence shows these policies are epic failures. Overdose deaths are at an all time high, 85% of people who go through rehabilitation relapse, and 80% of people who are released from the criminal justice system (45% of the incarcerated population is in prison for drug crimes) will be reincarcerated within 5 years. After years of research the American Medical Association has classiﬁed Substance Use Disorder as a relapsing brain disease, yet as a society we still treat people with a substance use disorder as criminal and a substance use disorder as a social failing. The community as a whole would be better off if people were able to transform their lives and get well. Looking at case studies, national and state level policies, ﬁrst hand accounts, and secondary sources I make the case that our current policy of criminalizing drugs and then socially isolating people suffering from Substance Use Disorder are further exacerbating the problem and damaging our communities. Our policies make it nearly impossible for people in recovery to get housing, or employment. We need to reframe our response to the drug epidemic. People can and should be held accountable for their actions. If we treat substance use disorder as a disease and allow people suffering from substance use disorder to reintegrate back into society and the community, people will have higher success rates and our society as a whole will improve.