Treatment Should Always Be a First, Readily-Available Option

At the Asbury Park Press, Shannon Mullen, Lisa Robyn Kruse, Austin Bogues, and Andrew J. Goudsward report on the unfair disparity in the treatment of Crack v. Heroin use:

Dannis Billups’ addiction nightmare began with an actual nightmare when he was about 4 years old. His daddy sat him on his knee and gave him a half-can of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer to soothe him.

In the 1980s, he joined the “family trade,” a young black man peddling crack cocaine on the streets of Newark, New Jersey, profiting from other people’s addiction and pain.

Within a few years, he became his best customer. His life became a never-ending ride on the criminal justice carousel: arrests, jail, probation and then back in the system for another spin, some two dozen times, on and off the ride he went.

“They would never offer you treatment,” said Billups, now 53. “They would just lock you away and forget about you.”

A generation after crack hit Newark, in the? idyllic? Jersey Shore suburb of Manasquan, a white hometown football hero named Richie? Lapinski took a seat on the same merry-go-round. Like Billups, Lapinski developed a substance abuse problem, although his drugs of choice were?prescription pills and heroin, the growing menace of whites.

But where Billups was punished with jail and probation, Lapinski snared the brass ring: addiction treatment paid for by taxpayers. He landed in Drug Court — not the true lock-em’-up criminal court Billups faced — where Lapinski’s record could be wiped clean. He was granted a new life outside of the system, if he kept his end of the bargain and stayed clean.

Diversionary treatment options should have been readily available then, and should be readily available today.

There are some such options now; there are not enough. The opioid crisis has cost too much, in lives, health, and money to approach it primarily though punishment. See The Washington Post’s Pain Pill Database, Society of Actuaries: Economic Cost of the Opioid Crisis, and ‘Don’t worry about them – the rest of us feel great!’

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