Author: Justin Mckibben
With the release of the United States Surgeon General report this month came the historical declaration that substance abuse is a public health disorder. While many have insisted upon this perspective in the past, it is the first time anyone holding the office of U.S. surgeon general has made the statement. In this groundbreaking report, Vivek Murthy described substance abuse stating,
“Not as a moral failing, but as a chronic illness that must be treated with skill, urgency and compassion. The way we address this crisis is a test for America.”
This revelation is a long-awaited victory for the countless advocates who have been hoping to change the way the world sees substance abuse and addiction.
Along with this statement, there comes a conversation about how to shift the strategies used to address addiction. Along with that comes the possibility for vast change and reform in the realm of criminal justice. How big is the impact of criminal justice on the addiction issue, and how could a change in perspective change everything?
Current View of Criminal Justice
The big thing here is that for years people have pushed for the world to see substance abuse and addiction as a health issue, both physical and mental. Changing the view from stigma and punishment to treatment ultimately means giving people struggling a better shot at recovery.
The failed War on Drugs has definitely put addiction and substance abuse in a place it doesn’t necessarily belong. Murthy’s report provides an update on drug and alcohol users in the country. According to its figures, in the last year alone:
- About 48 million Americans used or abused illegal or prescription drugs
- 28 million drove under the influence
- 21 million Americans currently suffer from addiction (substance-use disorder)
- Out of an estimated 2 million inmates in the nation, 65% “meet the criteria for substance-abuse addiction” according to a new study
- According to thePrison Policy Initiative, over 300,000 inmates currently in state and federal prisons are for convictions related to drugs.
These statistics place a severe strain on the criminal justice system far beyond federal prisons.
- Local and county jails have held thousands of these same individuals
- Tens of thousands lost driving privileges due to drunk driving
- Millions served time and were put on probation
- Millions became repeat offenders and cycled back through the system
The long and short of it is that in fact, the current system is not anything close to fixing the problem. And at $442 billion dollars spent annually on health-care and criminal justice for substance-use disorder, that is a VERY expensive failure to repeat over and over.
Reforming Criminal Justice
There are many variables that come into play when you discuss reforming criminal justice to be more effective for helping addicts. Some of these include:
- Ending the tactic of using fear of prison to keep people “in line”
- Reforming treatment programs through criminal justice system that rely on harsh penalties
- Ending unnecessarily punitive federal sentencing guidelines
A hard truth is the criminal-justice system is often the first to be in contact with struggling addicts. Thus many people only receive treatment once they are already involved in the criminal justice system, which often locks them into a cycle of failed attempts to clean up and repeated arrests.
Many would say it would be ideal to not have addicts and those battling substance abuse go through the criminal justice system at all; specifically for non-violent, drug-related offenses. They would rather individuals be directly diverted to a system that relies on medical and therapeutic rehabilitation.
The fact remains; even if state and federal governments begin addressing addiction as a health crisis, any reforms to the existing criminal-justice system will come with their own burdens. This kind of power-shift would have instantaneous economic effects due largely to institutional competition. The massive industrial prison system that has thrived for decades would of course fight to keep its funding if the government tried to divert those funds to healthcare programs.
The surgeon general’s report is a refreshing perspective and a much needed statement. But there is still money to move and the need for playing politics. Despite the fact that most believe mental health and public health institutions are better suited to treat addiction than prisons, some say they do not have the seniority or the political juice to make a claim on the resources to do so.
In the end, setting up an approach on the state or national level that would send addicts to treatment instead of jails and prisons would be an enormous task that we cannot logically expect to happen all too soon. Yet, there is hope. Many states now have more compassionate and treatment-based programs with law enforcement. Crisis-intervention training and other methods have reduced arrests and housing costs in many areas. It does make a difference.
The real difference to reforming the criminal justice system will come when more officials recognize that substance abuse and addiction are health issues and not moral ones, especially officials at the federal level.
Never forget that every day we all have the chance to influence change. Maybe we can’t change the criminal justice system over night, but we can make decisions that make a difference. Understanding addiction and fighting back is a victory itself. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call our toll-free number now to speak with an specialist. We want to help.
CALL NOW 1-800-951-6135
Author: Justin Mckibben
Heroin and other opiate abuse and addiction have been described as a plague across the country. Deaths from overdose have been deemed an outbreak, and the issue with trying to put an end to the suffering has been labeled a public health crisis. So with any illness, there are ways to try and provide treatment. But now some say we could be taking a different approach in prevention… the same way healthcare providers have worked to treat other illnesses… with a heroin vaccine.
So could a heroin vaccine really work? What big change could be brought about if people could be vaccinated for heroin addiction? What if drug addiction could be treated like the flu? What if it could be obstructed by a medicine before it ever even has the chance to take a hold of the person’s life?
Is a heroin vaccine actually possible?
Heroin Vaccine: Addiction is Illness
Kim Janda is a professor at the Scripps Research Institute. He developed this new compound believing that the same nature of the vaccine as intended to treat other sickness can and should be applied to addiction. When discussing the possibility of a heroin vaccine Janda stated:
“One thing people don’t realize is one thing that has probably changed (the) world health outlook of all the things you could imagine is vaccines,”
“We’ve tried this road where we treat drugs with other drugs and that didn’t work for me … Instead of like these wind-up toys that keep walking into the wall, I thought we should turn the toy around so it could start off in another direction. I wanted to come at (addiction) from a different angle.”
Janda also claims to have the data to prove that a heroin vaccine is a very real possibility. Commonly vaccines are designed to use our own immune system to combat an illness, such as:
Janda’s idea is to use the same strategy to combat substance abuse, strengthening the immune system to attack the drugs before they affect the body. He and his research team have developed a heroin vaccine that works by causing the body’s immune system to attack heroin much like it would any other disease. So far it has shown encouraging results in rodent testing.
Janda explained in the study rodents were previously addicted to heroin and went “cold turkey” off the drug. Then some were given the heroin vaccine while others were not. In the end Janda claims that the rodents who did not get the heroin vaccine re-assumed and even escalated their drug intake, while those that were treated did not- suggesting:
“It extinguished their drug-seeking behavior.”
Janda said the vaccine could potentially save lives by preventing overdoses as well as help recovering addicts remain clean.
Heroin Vaccine: Overdose Antidote
According to Janda another astonishing discovery in this process of testing was that the rodents that received the heroin vaccine were actually able to survive fatal doses of heroin – sometimes 20 times the normal dose! This is an exceptionally exciting prospect for such a medicine. Janda went on to say,
“It’s not something that’s been seen in these vaccines in the past. Mostly the vaccines in the past have tried to extinguish the drug-seeking behavior and provide a means for abstinence, but not for overdose cases … Potentially if people take too much and overdose, this could combat that also.”
As of now the heroin vaccine requires several shots over about a month period, currently the effects last for several months. Recovering addicts would need a booster shot when the effectiveness of the heroin vaccine begins to dwindle, but a practical application could be for individuals leaving incarceration to help them overcome temptations that lead to relapse.
Heroin Vaccine: Transforming Treatment
While this is a very thrilling and optimistic concept, Janda is adamant that this heroin vaccine is not meant at all to replace behavioral therapies. So this new heroin vaccine could be eventually developed into a highly advanced and more effective form of medication assisted recovery, but even the scientist behind it believes in behavioral therapy for addicts.
Right now heroin is the only drug they have worked on, but Janda said if it shows to be effective, the method could theoretically be applied to a wide range of dangerous and addictive substances.
This heroin vaccine may be coming to fruition sooner than you think. Janda’s research team recently received a two-year $1.6 million grant from the National Institute of Health’s National Institute of Drug Abuse to conduct non-human primate tests and apply for clinical trials through the FDA.
With all the talk in the media about people so against flu shots and other vaccinations this story might even find its way into that discussion. But it surely is interesting to imagine where this powerful tool might take us… if it actually works.
Around the nation the epidemic rages on. Policy makers, law enforcement and community activists and advocates have been striving to save lives by raising awareness to the issue and inspiring innovation in both treatment and drug policy.
This new heroin vaccine may be a huge leap in the right direction for treating heroin addiction. Even with the vaccine, holistic drug rehab will always be a huge part of lasting recovery. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135
WASHINGTON — Attorney General Eric Holder is calling the alarming increase in heroin-related overdose deaths an “urgent and growing public health crisis.” Holder is also calling for first responders to carry Narcan, a heroin antidote that, if administered promptly, can reverse the effects of an overdose.
“Addiction to heroin and other opiates, including certain prescription pain-killers, is impacting the lives of Americans in every state, in every region, and from every background and walk of life — and all too often, with deadly results,” Holder said in the message.
According to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, the number of heroin overdose deaths increased by 45% between 2006 and 2010. Such staggering statistics have recently prompted several state governors to speak out the impact of heroin on their communities and enact programs in an attempt to address the problem.
This latest message from the Attorney General Holder in which he showed public support for wide accessibility for a heroin antidote that could be used to rescue overdosing drug users mirrors the White House drug policy office’s position. Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske has also urged all first responders to have Narcan on hand. At least 17 states and the District of Columbia allow naloxone — commonly known by the brand name Narcan — to be distributed to the public, and bills are pending in some states to increase access to it.
Those advocating for the increased accessibility of Narcan say it can potentially save a lot of lives. The drug, which comes in both a spray and injectable form, can reverse a heroin overdose if it’s administered within a certain window. Critics of this policy say that making the antidote too accessible would only encourage drug use.
Holder said that law enforcement is also combatting the heroin problem and that efforts are being made to address supply and demand. Namely, by cutting off the supply chain that illegally supplies prescription painkillers to drug addicts. Holden admitted that more work is needed that focuses on the prevention and treatment of drug addiction.
“Confronting this crisis will require a combination of enforcement and treatment. The Justice Department is committed to both,” he said.
Groups like the Drug Policy Alliance, which speak out about the failure of the war on drugs, advocate for the wider accessibility of Narcan and want to see it go further than just having first responders carry the antidote. The organization said in a statement that it believes the antidote should be made available to anyone who might be in a position to witness an overdose, such as a friend or relative of an addict.
They are also calling for the Justice Department to support better education when it comes to substance abuse and promote “Good Samaritan” laws that protect people from prosecution when they call the police to report an overdose or transport a friend who is overdosing to the hospital. Several states have already enacted these Good Samaritan laws. In the past, many people died from overdosing on heroin because those witnessing the overdose were afraid to call for help for fear of arrest and prosecution.
If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135.