Letter: Addiction is not a crime but a disease

From: Mark Duwe


If you use the search term “Ted Talks Rehab Addiction” and search under “video,” you will see several short presentations on a number of subjects, but there are a lot of them on people struggling with addiction. They usually begin with the speaker explaining how they became addicted to the drug(s) of choice and how hard it was to fight to become clean and sober. The talk commonly ends with the speaker saying something like, “I’ve been clean and sober for two years now, and I would like to thank everyone who supported me in my struggle.”

The next thing that happens every time is the entire audience erupts with applause. My question is this: Where were these people when they first needed help, they were broke, didn’t have a job and most certainly didn’t have private insurance? Every person who struggles with addiction is on a journey they have to get through. There is no getting around it. There is the beginning, the middle and the end, which is never really the end because, as all addicts know, the struggle goes on forever even though you aren’t using.

The problem here in Bartholomew County is the same problem most communities have, and that is that addiction is seen as a crime and not a disease. That must change today.

Not long ago I remember hearing a story about a young woman who was found passed out at the wheel of her car, possibly overdosed, with three kids in the back seat. She should never have been arrested or done one day in jail. Jail and prison should never be used to punish people. I don’t care what the law is. For addicts to get to the end of their journey, we must not be throwing rocks in their pathway, which is exactly what the criminal justice system does right now. She should have been taken directly to the hospital and then to rehab. Of course, there’s the old joke: “How many psychologists does it take to change a light bulb? Just one, but the light bulb has to really want to change.”

We need to mirror a program that was started in Gloucester, Massachusetts. If you are addicted to heroin and you want to get clean, you just call the local police department, and they will dispatch police officers to pick you up and collect whatever stash and paraphernalia you may have. You are then transported to the local police station where you will fill out some forms and wait for a volunteer called an “angel” to come and pick you up. They are then transported to a rehab facility somewhere in the country. So who pays for this? We do. Why? Because we must start doing what works and stop doing what doesn’t work; it’s just that simple. Arrest, shaming, imprisonment don’t work. Let’s just help people, OK?