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Do drug charges miss the real issue?

You're arrested for heroin possession and facing a long jail sentence. Throughout the entire process, the authorities act like this is just a simple choice you made, something you brought upon yourself. They treat it the same as the decision to steal a car or commit fraud on your taxes.

That's often how drug crimes are viewed in the United States, and it's fueled by the so-called War on Drugs. However, some experts believe that this approach completely misses the mark.

The problem, says one counselor with the ACLU Center for Justice, is that things aren't always that simple. These aren't always conscious decisions that people make before getting arrested.

The counselor told the story of a young woman whose scoliosis left her in constant pain from the time she reached her teens. To take the edge off, the doctors gave her Oxycontin. It helped, but she always needed more of it. Oxycontin, of course, only treated the symptoms, not the root problem.

In time, she was addicted. When she could not buy enough Oxycontin, she looked for an alternative, and was soon addicted to heroin. When she could no longer afford the drugs she needed, she turned to the streets and ended up living in a tent and being arrested for prostitution and drug possession. 

The story is bleak, but it's also common, and it shows how quickly drugs can really work their way into someone's life. No one wakes up and decides they'd like to live in a tent and spend all of their money on heroin. Does throwing that person in jail really deter them? Did the authorities actually think that locking her up for a short time and then letting her go would somehow help her turn her life around?

The counselor came right out and said that, in many cases, drug laws and jail time don't deter drug use. Time behind bars doesn't cure addiction. In this case, all law enforcement efforts achieved was to use up valuable time and money and ultimately leave this woman trapped in the same destructive cycle.

The woman did eventually turn her life around after, instead of once again being thrown in jail, she was sentenced to complete a drug treament program. Treatment helped her with the addiction and drug dependency. Two years after she entered the program, she was drug free, no longer homeless and taking college classes.

Are you facing drug charges? In some cases, there are other options. For instance, Missouri has a specific drug court program that favors recovery over incarceration. A criminal defense attorney will protect your legal rights, fight to avoid a criminal conviction and work to get you the help you need to break free from drug addiction. 

Source: Nov. 30, -0001

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