Drug Policy

Crime and Treatment: A Creative Drug Policy

by Shirshira Kother, MJLST Staff

In our society, it seems as though drug addiction is a commonality for prison inmates. It tends to play some role in every crime scene and horrific headline that we hear about. Drugs have been a driving force for many criminals because it significantly alters their decision-making and ultimately affects their actions. While there is no mistake that those who act under the influence of drugs will be subject to justice system, there perhaps a better way to discourage this behavior by redefining addiction.

An article titled Why Neuroscience Matters for Rational Drug Policy in volume 11 of the Minnesota Journal of Law, Science and Technology, explores the possibility of addiction as a neurological problem that may be solved by specific treatment to rewire an individual’s brain. David M. Eagleman, Mark A. Correro & Jyotpal Singh analyze how consistent use of chemical substances destruct areas of the brain that control voluntary actions.

David M. Eagleman, Mark A. Correro & Jyotpal Singh analyze how consistent use of chemical substances destruct areas of the brain that control voluntary actions. The article continues to explain how policy regarding drug use and addiction should be more geared toward treating those affected by the condition versus punishing them for becoming addicted. They suggest that chronic users may not actually continue their use on their own accord but are driven their brains. Chemical abuse can restructure the functions within the brain and lead many criminals to act out of deprivation of the drug. This concept has come across several arguments, most of which revolve around the policy effect of allowing criminals to “blame their brains” for their actions. The authors however suggest that the mere explanation of chemical abuse and how its effects have led to a crime does not, relieve the individual of their responsibility. It allows the system to better rehabilitate the individual.

The process suggested would mirror the procedure used to treat an aliment in order to restore one’s health. The use of drugs is associated with positive stimulus and once the brain has been repeated exposed to a chemical, it becomes dependent on that stimulus to function and destroys behavior inhibition, which often leads to impulsivity. Depriving it of the substance can cause severe side affects to the individual and drive them to act without thought or reason. The article introduces two new radical methods in rehabilitating these individuals. Most medications used to treat addicts either reduce the positive response the drug elicits or counter acts the reaction by producing a negative one. By using real time neuroimaging, doctors can better understand cues associated with craving and try to override the responses to those cues. A second suggested method is a vaccine to block the receptors related to the positive response addicts experience when using drugs. This vaccine would not allow the addict to get high thus reducing their use.

While still fairly new, these two innovations can change rehabilitation of those incarcerated from chemical use and abuse related crimes. Perhaps, the biggest concern is whether these options will have long-term positive effects and keep the individuals off of drugs. If successful, this method would not only remove potentially dangerous individuals from society but also groom them to rejoin the world: chemical free.

The Art of War on Drugs

by Ke M. Huang, UMN Law Student, MJLST Staff

Ke M. Huang.jpgA recent New York Times article addressed the research of a psychology professor at Columbia University that aimed to discredit misperceptions about drug addicts. The article cited Professor Carl Hart saying: “Eighty to 90 percent of people who use crack and methamphetamine don’t get addicted,” Hart continued, “And the small number of who do become addicted are nothing like the popular caricatures. His research showed that, for example, recruited addicts who were given a choice between a dose of crack and $5.00 sometimes chose the money. Findings such as this led Professor Hart to conclude that addicts can make rational economic decisions.

In the Volume 11, Issue 1 of the Minnesota Journal of Law, Science & Technology, Eagleman et al. also shed light on drug addiction by offering two additions to drug policy. After presenting an overview of the shortcomings of the U.S. drug policy, and a summary of the modern neuroscientific understanding of chemical dependency, Eagleman et al. suggested that the government should try implementing (1) cocaine vaccines, and (2) neuroimaging feedback to treat drug addiction. The first measure creates on the recipient of the vaccine an immune response to cocaine molecules that can weaken, if not eliminate, the high of the cocaine. The second measure, like biofeedback, allows an individual to view a graphical representation of the activity in a certain area of her brain, and let her practice to control it. Thus Eagleman et al. support a more rehabilitative, rather than retributive, policy to addressing issues of chemical dependency.

As someone who was raised in the country with one of the least criminalized drug policies in Europe–Portugal, I stumbled upon literature that also suggested that a country’s war on drugs does not have to be a hot war. Since 2001, Portugal implemented a drug decriminalization reform. A drug user is not arrested, but referred to a squad often times made up of a lawyer, a social worker, and a medical professional. The squad finds whether the user is addicted. If yes, he may be then referred to a treatment or be penalized, such as being banned from a certain neighborhood or losing a driver’s license. If not, he is unlikely to be sanctioned. About 5% users are brought before the squad the second time in the same year. A 2010 study in the British Journal of Criminology concluded that Portugal’s drug policy reform was quite successful. Teen drug use decreased, law enforcement authorities seized more drugs, and, though adult drug use rates climbed, the rates were lower than the neighboring nations that did not adopt drug policies like those in Portugal.

About 2500 years ago, Sun Tzu wrote “the skillful leader subdues the enemy’s troops without any fighting.” Similarly, the literature discussed indicates that the war on drugs could be a peaceful fight after all.

Brains on Drugs: The Need for a Drug Policy that Embraces Scientific Understanding of Addiction

by Mike Borchardt, UMN Law Student, MJLST Managing Editor

Thumbnail-Mike-Borchardt.jpgThe strong showing in polls for marijuana legalization efforts in Colorado and Washington illustrate that America’s attitudes toward illegal drugs is starting to shift. Though the attitudes of some voters are starting to shift on pot, there is still a strong disconnect, especially when it comes to harder drugs, between what we know about addiction and the policies we use to curb drug use. In their article in MJLST 11.1, “Why Neuroscience Matters for Rational Drug Policy,” David M. Eagleman, Mark A. Correro, and Jyotpal Singh outline this disconnect between science and policy. As they explain, “Although addiction may involve volitional choices early on, it is best understood as a brain disease.” Despite this being the general consensus of the scientific community, our drug policies do too little to address addiction as a disease.

A good example of this is the use of Suboxone (buprenorphine), a drug used to treat opiate addiction . The US government spent millions of dollars funding Reckitt Benckiser’s development of Suboxone. It is an opiate which is much more difficult to overdose on than other drugs like heroin, and it is used to help manage withdrawal and cravings. Due to fears that it will be abused, Suboxone is difficult for many addicts to get. Doctors must undergo special training to prescribe it, and they are only allowed to write prescriptions for 30-100 patients a year. Additionally, many doctors are wary of prescribing it, as they don’t want to draw addicts to their offices. This makes it more difficult than necessary for addicts to gain access to Suboxone–they turn to drug dealers on the street for a supply of it, and when the dealers don’t have it, they use heroin or other opiates to satisfy their addiction.

Making Suboxone unnecessarily difficult for addicts to get is only one example of the disregard our drug policy shows towards our scientific understanding of addiction. As Eagleman, Correro, and Singh explain (at page 20) , “The United States has a history of combating the drug problem with increased law enforcement rather than customized intervention and rehabilitation.” Despite the fact that treatment has been shown to be far more effective (both cost-effective and effective in reducing drug use) than incarceration, drug treatment programs are underfunded and stigmatized. As the economic recession in the US has led to tighter budgets, drug-treatment programs are often one of the first things on the chopping block. Though US drug policy has generally been, and still is, heavily focused on law enforcement as a solution to the drug problem, there have been some hopeful developments. The Affordable Care Act includes addiction treatment as one of the “Essential Health Benefits” insurers are required to provide. If the law is successful in getting more Americans, especially low-income Americans, health insurance, it could help provide avenues of treatment that were formally unavailable to drug-addicts due to their cost.