By: Rev. Dr. Kevin T. Coughlin PhD. 

“It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.” ~Nelson Mandela


Is Addiction a Crime? 
Since the eighties, the judicial system hasn’t changed their thinking much about drug addiction with increasing stigma associated with growing public support for the criminalization of addiction until now.
Police officers, Judges, Parole and Probation officers would look at addiction as immoral and needing reform; the answer was always harsh prison sentences followed up with long-term parole and probation. Some other cultural perceptions of addiction are:
  1. Sin and personal trial in the religious community
  2. Searching for meaning in the spiritual community
  3. It’s a choice and symptomatic of underlying conditions in the socio-cultural community
  4. It’s a disease that’s medically fixable: however, chronic in the medical community
  5. It’s a disease and we have known the solution for a long time in the recovery community

Three Strikes; You’re Out

In the eighties and nineties we had mandatory sentencing guidelines, “three strikes you’re out!”  Drug addicts could and did receive life sentences for minor crimes that were addiction-related where treatment would have been a much more reasonable and effective solution.  The penalties were unusually cruel for people suffering from a disease: however, there was a stigma attached.  Even today, people still don’t agree on the true definition of addiction.

What Is Addiction?

from addict 2 advocate marilyn l davisThere are many thoughts on what the problem of addiction is.  A quick Google search yields 161,000,000 results.  I looked up ten different places, and these are the results.
1. In 1934, William D. Silkworth M.D. attended a patient who was alcoholic.  Dr. Silkworth said, “I had come to regard him as hopeless.”  Dr. Silkworth wrote the chapter in “The Big Book” of Alcoholics Anonymous known as “The Doctor’s Opinion.”  In this chapter, the doctor describes alcoholism as a disease of the mind due to the mental obsession. Combined with a disease of the body, because of the phenomenon of craving or allergy, or allergy defined is an abnormal reaction.”
2. In 1956, The American Medical Association had declared that alcoholism was an illness.
3. In 1991, The AMA further endorsed the dual classification of alcoholism by the international classification of diseases under both psychiatric and medical sections. 
4. In 2004, The World Health Organization stated that alcoholism is a brain disorder. 
5. The American Society of Addiction Medicine and the AMA both maintain that alcoholism is a disease. 
6. NAADAC: The Association of Addiction Professionals believes that Science has shown that addiction is a brain disease that responds well to treatment.
7.  The Recovery Community, those in long-term recovery believe that alcoholism is a disease as described by Dr. Silkworth.
8. The Faith-based community is divided some believe that alcoholism is a disease; some believe it’s a sin.  
9. Most clinicians believe that addiction is a brain disorder.
10. The ASAM defines addiction: as a “primary, chronic disease of the brain with characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations.”

Regardless of Definition, Addiction is Real

“The man takes a drink or drug, the drink takes a drink (The drug takes a drug), the drink or drug takes the man!”  -Author Unknown

If you genuinely want to solve the problem, then you can find a solution to anything; there are perception and perspective problems in most cases, though. There are also many opinions about what the solution to addiction is.  There are many modalities to choose from.  Different treatment models teach different programs based on what they believe.  Some let the client choose what modality they will follow.  
It’s a mixed bag.There are so many theories by many different types of people. 
  • Medical community members: doctors, clinicians, and scientists
  • A faith-based community of the Reverends, Rabbis, Yogis, and healers.
  • Twelve-step community, and grassroots programs
  • Secular recovery  
  • Some addicts rely on self-help

The types of treatment, support, and help have expanded over the years to include: 

  • Harm Reduction, Emotional Intelligence, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, 
  • Neuroscience, Motivational Interviewing, 
  • Inpatient, outpatient, Aftercare, Medication Assisted Treatment, Detox, 
  • Recovery Coaching, Family Recovery Coaching, 
  • Interventions, Sober Companions, Sponsors, Peer Mentors, 
  • Therapy, Counseling, 
  • Sober Housing, Residential treatment

Help – Expert or Experienced?

Think about this logically for a moment.  We are certainly dealing with life and death so every decision is very important.  Let’s say you were going to a place that you had never been, a very dangerous place!  For our purposes here we will say that you are on a reality TV show and you have to spend the weekend in the Everglades in Florida. 
Let me ask you a question:  Would you rather go for the weekend with a guide that had read a book about the Everglades and had some theories, or would you rather go with a guide that had been there many times and made it back alive and was a tried, tested, and proven guide?  I think the correct answer is clear.
The recovery community looks at drugs and alcohol as a symptom of the problem, not the problem.  
If you take the alcohol away from an alcoholic, they still have all of the isms.  They will still have the living and the thinking problem that needs to change.  They will need a vehicle to change and a support system to support that vehicle.  No magic pill is ever going to work as the answer to addiction.  The problem defines the solution.  
Addressing the underlying causes and core issues of addiction means, that in most cases, the symptoms go away.   We’re talking about self-centeredness and shame here as the root and the core of addiction.  Living a spirit-centered life will deal with both of these issues.  
Addicts and alcoholics need a way to identify and understand the problem that they have so that they can admit and accept that they have it.  A solution to solve the problem and a decision that they want to solve it.  They will need an action plan or roadmap to get there, and a plan to maintain their freedom so that they can continue to grow in spirituality. With incentive, support, and directions, the alcoholic or addict will go from harmful self or self-centered to spirit-centered. 
There may also be underlying or co-occurring problems that will also need to be dealt with by a professional.  There may be physical problems, living-skills problems, emotional problems, mental health problems, spiritual problems, etc.
Obviously, you don’t go to the dentist when you hurt your knee!  The person needs to get help from the proper professional or professionals.
What Is Recovery?
Again, the perceptions and definitions of recovery vary, depending on the beliefs surrounding the addition.  Some believe that recovery requires total abstinence from all mood-altering substances, while others do not. 
A recent study, “What is Recovery?” is a project of the Alcohol Research Group and offers answers by individuals in recovery and describes their personal definitions. Beyond those personal references are scientific, medical, spiritual, secular and Twelve-step based definitions: 
  • “Recovery is a daily reprieve contingent upon the maintenance of one’s spiritual condition.” -AA basic Text
  • There are many different pathways to recovery
  • Recovery is self-directed and empowering
  • Recovery involves a personal recognition of the need for change
  • The root of addiction is self-centeredness, shame is at the core
  • Recovery is holistic
  • Recovery has many cultural dimensions
  • Recovery exists on a continuum of improvement in wellness and overall health
  • Recovery is born of gratitude and hope
  • Recovery is a process of self-discovery and healing
  • Recovery has several support systems
  • Recovery involves a process of rebuilding and re-establishing a life and community
It’s clear that even if the definitions of addiction or recovery differ, all believe that recovery is possible and a fact. 
Understanding the Problem and Creating a Solution

“Unforgiveness denies the victim the possibility of parole and leaves them stuck in the prison of what was, incarcerating them in their trauma and relinquishing the chance to escape beyond the pain.” ― T.D. Jakes

Today, our Nation has a heroin epidemic on its hands!  Police officers are responding by providing help instead of “lockup.”  The man who is leading the way is Gloucester, Massachusetts Chief of Police Leonard Campanello. The Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative is a nonprofit organization that works to remove the stigma associated with drug addiction.  
The Country is responding to this epidemic that is killing Lady Liberty’s children by the thousands with progressive thinking and action. In his department, the new policy is help for addicts, “on the spot!” 
The department’s philosophy is one of prevention and awareness rather than punishment.  Police departments in other states across the country are starting to follow suit.
Chief Campanello started an organization named P.A.A.R.I., The Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative.  The chief started the group to bridge the gap between the police department and addicts seeking recovery from addiction and to support other local departments as they work with opioid addicts rather than arrest them.  P.A.A.R.I. committed departments:
  1. Provide resources to other departments and communities
  2. Support others in the fight against the opioid addiction epidemic
  3. Help distribute life -saving opioid-blocking drugs
  4. Train officers and others in treatment of overdoses 
  5. Connect addicts with treatment providers at low or no cost
  6. Encourage opioid drug users to seek recovery through awareness, prevention, and education
P.A.A.R.I. turns the talk from the crimes of addiction to the disease of addiction, working directly with treatment centers to secure scholarships and fully-funded residential recovery programs. 
I hope and pray that this model catches fire in every police department in our Nation; it’s a wonderful model for success! 

“I’ve met good men—yes, good men—in prison who made mistakes out of stupidity or ignorance, greed, or just bad judgment, but they did not need to be sent to prison to be punished; eighteen months for catching too many fish; two years for inflating income on a mortgage application; three months for selling a whale’s tooth on eBay; fifteen years for a first-time nonviolent drug conspiracy in which no drugs were found or seized. 

There are thousands of people like these in our prisons today, costing American taxpayers billions of dollars when these individuals could be punished in smarter, alternative ways. 

“Our courts are over-punishing decent people who make mistakes, and our prisons have no rewards or incentives for good behavior. In this alone criminal justice and prison systems contradict their own mission statements .”― Bernard B. Kerik

Two organizations that I’m involved with have offered their services to P.A.A.R.I. 
I would like to say a personal Thank You to Chief Campanello and all of the Officers and Departments involved in P.A.A.R.I., God bless you and keep you all safe and healthy as you protect and serve! 
Let’s all help the Chief save some more lives! If you own a treatment center or are a CEO or represent a treatment center or recovery house contact P.A.A.R.I. and help out.  If you want to make a donation, they are a nonprofit. Together we can all make a difference!
©2015 Rev. Dr. Kevin T. Coughlin PhD.

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