Drug War Entrenched, Prevention Often Punished

An article in this weekend’s Dothan Eagle reported on drug intervention and arrests in the Wiregrass, interviewing T.O.P.S. (AWRN member) associate pastor Maurice Graham about his own battle with drugs and the importance of rehabilitation programming. As the Dothan Eagle reported, President Obama allocated $15.1 billion in FY 2010 for drug enforcement and prevention, with prevention taking a funding cut.

On the topic of recidivism and court-overseen drug rehabilitation programs, Dale County Special Programs Manager and drug court official (Dale and Geneva counties) Cheryl Leatherwood stated she “was disappointed to see that President Obama did not follow through on his promise to stop the ‘War on Drugs.’ He did not increase funding for treatment interventions and working with the courts to identify those who can benefit from intervention programs.” She went on to say that drug courts are indeed helping, and that her program has graduated people in the past couple of months, with more “slated for graduation over the summer.”

The Dothan Eagle article cited ADOC statistics on recidivism, citing that 35% of convicted drug offenders released in 2005 returned to ADOC custody within a 3 year period. These statistics are unclear, as the article did not expressedly say that the 35% of returned drug offenders were returned to prison on substance abuse charges. This discrepancy, like so many others, is an important piece of the puzzle of understanding and addressing substance abuse, as substance abuse rarely happens in isolation of other factors.

In fact, substance abuse is most often a concurrent problem that follows poverty, untreated illness, and abuse. These factors may have played a large role in the return of the 35% of released drug offenders cited in the article, whether their new charges were drug related or not. Without knowing what offenses the 35% of offenders returned were accused of and their individual context, as well as whether or not the individuals were able to access/participated in substance abuse treatment post-release, it is impossible to assess the effectiveness of in-prison substance abuse programs or post-release substance abuse programs.

The cost of programs is high, but only when viewed in comparison to no alternatives, no treatment, and no eye to the future of Alabama’s communities. The ability to see trends in treatment and programming needs across the state would go a long way toward putting the budget discussions to rest, and would reduce drug-related crime. Without seeing trends through coordinated data collection, analysis, and sharing, Alabama’s budgets will continue to play catch-up to a specter of high treatment costs that may very well be affordable and funded through diversified resources. 

Alabama’s substance abuse treatment programs, both at the community and state level, are working hard to coordinate their efforts toward recognizing these trends and providing in-demand services at greater capacity. Hats off to their achievements and continued dedication to improving the lives of Alabamians.


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