For far too many years our country has been suffering at the hands of our own policies. The laws that govern our actions regarding addiction and individuals battling a substance use disorder in our legal system are outdated and counterproductive. Now is the time for a change. We have experienced dramatic gains in our abilities to treat addiction. Research has proven that (a) incarceration has not produced our desired outcomes, and (b) treatment can make a positive change. Addiction as a brain disease has been scientifically proven, therefore we must not put off the inevitable any longer. It is a disease that is both progressive and ultimately fatal. Our government spends billions of dollars annually primarily focused on drug interdiction to combat a problem that, instead, should be fought at the base level of demand which is the individual’s need for a substance.
In choosing to treat the disease of addiction instead of demanding incarceration, we would greatly counter the negative impact that addiction places on our families, communities, and society. The bottom line is we need to do something different than sticking to the status quo, which is complaining and blaming when outcomes do not change. Appropriate treatment is an option that is the catalyst for many in recreating their lives and helping them become accountable for the actions that resulted in their involvement in the legal system in the first place. Research has shown that court-ordered treatment has been used effectively, especially with drug monitoring and close surveillance within a clinical environment. One cannot deny that placing clients in the appropriate level of treatment has made a positive impact on many people. However, we, as a nation, continue to apply outdated and unsuccessful methods while at the same time maintaining our claims that we take a special interest in offering the best care/outcomes for those who suffer.
Considering the foregoing, how can we best work with and offer assistance to the clients that we serve who often find themselves drowning in the consequences and grips of addiction? Is it not time for our judicial system to partner in the responsibility of treating a disease with medical and addiction treatment professionals? As a treatment professional, I do see some similarities between the work that I do and that of an individual’s attorney. In my experience of working with attorneys, I believe that we both have an ethical duty to advocate for both the individual, as well as, the opportunity to receive services specifically designed to address the addiction that so often is the main contributing factor behind their legal issues. The outward symptoms of this disease are legion and like no other. They can be neighbor’s jewelry being stolen, children being removed from the home by child protective services, or local businesses being burglarized.
Attorneys are positioned in a unique and much-needed way to help their clients that are dealing with substance use. There is no doubt that people dealing with legal issues put a lot of faith and trust into what their attorneys have to say. In many instances, families and friends have spent a lot of time and energy trying to get their loved one to see the reality and seriousness of their substance use and the resulting consequences. Honestly, for many of us in recovery, family members are the hardest to help. We know that addiction impacts the family unit as a whole and the whole unit suffers. Attorneys and others on the outside of the consequences and emotional attachments are better equipped to view the realities and deliver hard truths. I know several people in recovery today that due to the actions of their attorneys, were afforded the opportunity to receive appropriate services versus another stay in a county jail or prison.
Because attorneys are uniquely positioned and may often provide an angle of leverage that no other can, it allows them to be an integral part of addressing the actual problem of addiction, instead of the symptoms only. This is where the real change happens! Some helpful actions for the attorney to take when creating this change are as follows:
- Clinical Assessments – Because each client has their own set of circumstances and will be at different stages in their addiction, clinical assessments will provide a sound starting point for creating their individualized treatment plan. These clinical assessments can be performed by local therapists, social workers, government agencies, or treatment professionals.
- SUD (Substance Use Disorder) Focused Mitigation Packets – Creating an outline of information to be collected on each client, including but not limited to, (a) the bio/psycho/social history of the accused to identify past traumas and mental health issues; highlighting any verbal, physical or sexual abuse, (b) a genealogical report to notate family history of addiction, (c) interviewing family members and peers regarding how client’s SUD has progressed, (d) identify appropriate SUD and mental health experts to testify on the client’s behalf, and (e) documentation of past treatment history and both judicial and incarceration records. This will assist in creating the personal story of the accused.
- Individualized Treatment Plans – Building working relationships with professionals from all levels of care is paramount. Depending on the clinical assessment outcome, the client may simply need a contact from the local recovery community and a list of twelve-step meetings in the area. However, others may need to work with individual counselors or therapists specializing in addiction, trauma, mental health, etc., or be admitted to a facility for detox, residential, and an intensive outpatient program in conjunction with sober living options, sober companions, or life coaches.
- Advocate for the local specialty courts as an option.
- Client’s Family Dynamics – Due to the ripple effect of addiction, it is also known as a family disease. Some family members may struggle with their own addictions, such as co-dependency. The family member who is the greatest enabler of the client is also the one that could destroy their case due to their inability to make tough decisions where the client is concerned.
There is no question as to which direction is the most ethical and beneficial for each and every American. It would be a massive undertaking to find an individual that has not been impacted in some way personally by addiction. We must continually ask ourselves, which policy, incarceration or treatment, would we prefer if it was our loved one? Addiction does not discriminate; we are all eligible in some respect. Hope is generated today in the fact that addiction is absolutely treatable, and a life of recovery is possible. When appropriate representation is teamed with appropriate clinical services, lives are transformed.
International Overdose Awareness Day…
is the world’s largest annual campaign to end overdose,
remember without stigma those who have died,
and acknowledge the grief of the family and friends left behind.
Time to Remember. Time to Act.