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Florida's Token Commitment Drug Abuse

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Posted On: November 14, 2002          Updated On: November 14, 2002
© Terence T. Gorski, 2001

Florida's Token Commitment Drug Abuse

Florida has made only a token commitment to effective drug abuse prevention and treatment. The current policy is well intentioned but misguided. The case of Governor Bush's daughter's drug abuse problem puts the failing of our current policy under the microscope. 

What would be served by sentencing Noelle Bush to long term incarceration for her drug abuse problem? Obviously the Governor believes that this would be a failed strategy and he pulled every string that he could to get his daughter into treatment instead of prison. 

But what if Noelle Bush were a black kid from a poor neighborhood who was caught forging prescriptions? The Florida DEA would probably want maximum penalties in order "to send the right message" to drug abusers. In technical terms, Noelle Bush is on her third strike. If she were from a poor black family she would probably be facing twenty years to life imprisonment. 

Instead, the Governor has fast-tracked his daughter through drug court, arranged for mandated drug treatment, and emphasized that Noelle's problem is a private family matter. 

The Governor's right to treat his daughter's case in this manner. This should be the basic procedure for everyone facing nonviolent drug charges of possession and personal use. Why? Because this is the kind of get tough be smart drug policy that works for everyone, not just the Governor's daughter. 

So why can't the "get tough" politicians come right out and support mandated treatment instead of incarceration for nonviolent drug addicts convicted for personal possession and use? It's because the punitive nature of the drug war collides head on with the ability to treat addiction as a health care problem. Prevention and treatment are a part, but a very small part, of the State's drug war plan. 

We're spending millions of dollars sending SWAT teams to serve no-knock drug warrants while our State's treatment centers are running waiting lists. 

We're ready to computerize private pharmacy records so the DEA can catch "criminals" who abuse prescription drugs, yet no money is made available to train doctors and pharmacists in how to recognize and medically intervene upon addiction when they see it in their practice. 

Millions of dollars are spent on enforcement and imprisonment of nonviolent drug addicts while less than 20% recieve any treatment while behind bars. 

The prevention and treatment programs that are funded within our communities and behind the bars are doing excellent work with limited resources. They are making a difference and there is good economic evidence to support it. So what's the problem with making a real commitment to implementing a Public Health Addiction Policy for people whose only crime is being addicted?

The problem is that treating addicts is not the number one priority in the State of Florida. The real priority is the imprisonment of nonviolent drug addicts. Once imprisoned less than twenty percent receive treatment. When returned to the community many of these drug offenders are likely to relapse. This is because funding that should have been invested in community-based treatment is being spent on incarceration. 

At the heart of the problem is a set of "Get Tough Be Dumb" Drug Policies. These policies make arrest and imprisonment available upon request in every community while providing minimal funding for drug prevention and treatment. As a result waiting lists are the norm and good efforts like drug courts in every judicial districts are floundering because there are not enough community-based treatment programs to support them.

It is my sincere hope that Governor Bush will support "Get Tough Be Smart" Drug Enforcement Policies based upon the best scientific evidence available. Addiction is a health problem with physical, psychological and social symptoms. The problems of addiction and crime overlap - but it is a failed strategy to spend limited tax dollars on investigating, arresting, and prosecuting individual addicts whose only crime is having a brain disease called addiction.

I challenge the Governor to take a bold step and treat all nonviolent alcohol and drug abusers arrested for personal possession and use with the same compassion he has shown for his daughter. I ask the Governor to pardon all people imprisoned for their addiction who have committed no other crimes except for personal possession and use. 

This would empty thousands of prison cells saving tax payers $25,000 per year for each pardoned addict. Then I ask the Governor to invest $12,000 for each pardoned prisoner to support drug courts and build a comprehensive network of treatment programs designed to build sober and responsible people. This investment will produce a significant financial return to the community through increased employment income, reduced health care costs, and reduced criminal justice costs. 

The Governor has the power to do this - but he probably won't. Why? Because he and the team of "Get Tough Be Dumb" Politicians believe in punishment before treatment - unless its for their own children.

For further information on Get Tough Be Smart drug policy, use the search engine on www.tgorski.com and look for Public Health Addiction Policy.

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