Many individuals believe that drug and alcohol abuse is not their problem. There is also the misconception that drug or alcohol abusers belong to a segment of society different from their own. They are wrong.
Analyzing statistics for 2009 from the Warren County Clerk of Court records, approximately 48% of charges filed directly relate to drug or alcohol abuse. Although it would be difficult to determine the actual number of other charges that are directly related to drug or alcohol abuse, many criminal defendants test positive for drugs or alcohol after sentencing and many of these Defendants are repeat offenders.
This trend of drug and/or alcohol abuse has a direct effect on Court costs. When a Defendant is placed on Probation, there is the need (and cost) for comprehensive drug testing. If placed in jail, a Defendant may need medical services relating to his or her drug or alcohol abuse and mental health treatment.
A recent study by the Office of National Drug Control Policy reports that prescription drug abuse has increased 400 percent in the U.S. between 1998 and 2008. Another disturbing report recently found that prescription drug abuse rivals and, in some states, replaces car crashes as the number one killer of people under the age of 34.
At a recent sentence court, 7 of 15 offenders committed crimes against Warren County citizens that were a direct result of drug abuse. Six of the crimes were to obtain money for drugs and one committed the crime while under the influence of drugs.
The people coming through the Court system today for drug related crimes are using harder, more addictive and more dangerous drugs than a decade ago. Heroin, cocaine, oxicotin, oxicodone, methadone, soboxzone and fentanyl are being used instead of or in addition to marijuana alcohol. The drug offenders report a period of experimental abuse that grows into habitual abuse and progresses into addictive abuse. As they transition to addictive abuse, they lose their ability to fund the drug habit from legitimate sources. The addiction drives their actions.
As the addictive abuse continues, they begin stealing from friends and family. Sometimes it is drugs from the medicine cabinet that Mom, Dad or Grandma will never miss. Sometimes it is pain medication that a family member will badly miss to relieve painful conditions. This causes the family member to suffer pain due to lack of medication. Other times people steal computers, iPods, check books, debit or credit cards or other valuable personal items from friends or family which they use or sell to support their drug habit. In these circumstances, the crime may go unreported as friends or families don't want to get the person into trouble. The drug abuser becomes highly manipulative, promising the sun, moon, and stars but continuing to use, abuse, and do what it takes to get the drugs. It is the need for drugs that drives their behavior. They may feel guilty when confronted by friends or family about the things their addiction has driven them to do but they can't seem to stop. Even when they have been arrested, convicted and sentence by the Court for their crimes, they are unable to overcome the addiction. They serve their time in jail and are subsequently placed on probation or parole supervision, knowing they will be tested on a regular basis for drug use. However, they continue to use drugs.
Forty-nine out of seventy-eight people had their court supervision revoked in the last six months for drug use or possession. Forty percent of the population in the Warren County Jail consists of individuals who have violated their probation or parole supervision. The average length of stay for these offenders is 325 days. The cost of this incarceration is being funded by the citizens of Warren County. Three offenders who were previously revoked while on probation and completed their sentence in jail have since died of drug overdoses shortly after their release from jail.
What works? First, the whole community getting it's head out of the sand and recognizing that the problem is here and getting worse. The effects of addiction cost money, time and quality of life for abusers, their families, and the community. We need to invest our time, energy and money into getting the message out that drugs are dangerous and that addiction always begins with experimental use. We need to examine our own attitudes about drug abuse. The amount of drugs dispensed by prescription for this class of drug, according to one local pharmacist, is more then twice what it was five years ago. Our population is getting older, but the need for this medication has not increased more then100% in five years. The drugs being abused by addicts are being scammed, stolen, or diverted from legitimate purposes. Most of the drugs being confiscated by the Warren County District Attorney Drug Task Force are pharmaceutical drugs produced for legitimate use that have been diverted.
There is the need to link strong enforcement with sanctions that include referrals to enhanced addiction treatment programs with aggressive supervision to ensure that treatment conditions are being followed. The Treatment Court recently started by the Court is a good start to developing a system that is effective with this population of offenders.
These changes will cost money but we are already spending large sums on this population with little success. There is a need to reinvest the dollars into a system that works more efficiently and successfully to reduce our recidivism rate.
So be aware. Not only are illegal drugs being abused on a more frequent basis, but the drugs being abused are more addictive and dangerous. What has traditionally been done to deter drug abuse is not working and a new mindset must be established to deal with this problem.