|Addiction is a brain disease. A preventable one, but nevertheless a brain disease. LEARN MORE HERE!|
- Chronic drug abuse causes long-lasting brain changes that contribute to an addicted person’s compulsion to seek and use drugs despite catastrophic consequences. These brain changes persist long after drug abuse ends, leading to high rates of relapse (as with other chronic diseases) and the need for continuing treatment to help an individual achieve recovery.
- More and better treatment is needed in the criminal justice system, and continuing through the period of re-entry into the community. It is estimated that about half of state and federal prisoners meet the criteria for drug abuse and dependence and yet fewer than 20 percent who need treatment receive it.
- As in the general population, co-occurring substance use and other mental disorders are common, with about 45% of inmates in local jails and State prisons having both. In addition, about 75% of inmates with a mental illness also meet criteria for substance abuse, and vice-versa. This high rate of co-occurrence underscores the need for offenders, both adults and juveniles, suffering from one disorder to be screened for the other and, where appropriate, treated for both, necessitating an integrated treatment approach.
- Involvement in the criminal justice system provides an opportunity to diagnose and treat these health problems, which also include infectious diseases like HIV. Fourteen percent of HIV-infected individuals pass through correctional facilities each year, and yet criminal justice–based services and community health and social services remain fragmented.
- Research demonstrates that treatment can work for drug abusing offenders, even when it is entered involuntarily. Forced abstinence (when it occurs) during incarceration is not equivalent to treatment. Failure to receive needed treatment or access to services often leads to relapse and re-arrest, usually during the first 12 months after release.
Juvenile Offenders: Virtually every juvenile offender should be screened for drug abuse and mental disorders, and receive an intervention:
- Treatment for those who are dependent on alcohol or drugs, or mentally ill.
- Drug abuse prevention for those who are not.
- HIV prevention or treatment as needed.
- Longitudinal studies show that treatment begun in the criminal justice system and continued in the community garners lasting reductions in criminal activity and drug abuse. This includes medication-assisted treatment (i.e., methadone) for prisoners with heroin addiction (see figure below).
- Providing treatment is cost-effective, saving between $2 and $6 for every $1 spent on it, which in part reflects reductions in criminal behavior and re-incarceration.
Getting proven treatments into the criminal justice system will promote abstinence, help identify and mitigate related diseases like HIV, and foster productive reintegration back into the community.