On Tuesday April 29, 2014 Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) hosted the Addiction and Criminal Justice Forum to discuss legislation and implementation of policies related to addiction and criminal justice on the national and state level. The main focus of the event surrounded the increased usage of Opium among Americans and how implementing programs that reduce the recidivism levels of drug users would in return help lower this growing drug epidemic. The premise of the proposed legislation is to create more drug recovery programs on the state level. Through this program those found caught using these illegal substances can have an opportunity to seek help and recovery rather than just being convicted and sent away without an intervention that so many of these addicts desperately need.
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse opened up the event and immediately commented on how we need to “move past the stigma” and the “ineffective policies” we currently have in our system. 105 Americans die each day as a result of drug overdoses which is why an increased in public awareness needs to occur. He argued that by strengthening addiction rehab programs we can drastically improve the lives of community members and save those suffering from addiction.
Governor Peter Shumlin of Vermont spoke first-hand about the opium epidemic he is currently facing within his state and the efforts his administration is taking to send more of these addicts to rehab rather than to jail. He spoke out about the hefty costs related to sending individuals to jail saying that the “economics of this issue should appeal to every tax payer” seeing as within his state alone it costs $56,000 to lock someone up in Vermont. Regardless of the money, Governor Shumlin recognized that remaining silent was no longer working for his state and argued that “it isn’t that we don’t know what to do about this problem it’s just that we are to afraid to do what’s needed”. His state serves as a model for the policy that the senators are hoping to create, as Vermont has passed laws that crack down on drug usage by developing awareness through public education and encouraging cross agency initiatives so that every member of the community is involved in the effort to combat drug overdosing.
This issue affects and influences the goals of AFSP as prescription drug abuse and other forms of drug abuse are connected very closely with mental health and the increasing deaths related to drug overdosing needs to be reduced. The more awareness this issue receives the more attention correlating issues will receive such as depression and suicide; drug addiction parity can be a gateway or supporter into mental health parity. It is reassuring to see such a bipartisan effort on this topic and it shows that addiction and mental illness knows no political affiliation, and that it is possible for our political leaders to work together to accomplish a common goal.