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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Addiction Treatment Versus More Prison Time

A little over two years ago we wrote about Cameron Douglas. At the time, Cameron had pleaded guilty to a serious drug crime. This guilty plea was the culmination of the results of his addiction which he admits to struggling with since the age of 13. As Cameron grew up and passed from adolescence to adulthood all the parental support and family resources could not convince Cameron to accept treatment. And so the years went by and eventually Cameron resorted to dealing methamphetamine and cocaine to support his own addiction to heroin. Cameron's story is not unique except for the fact that his story's visibility perhaps can help our justice system to understand that addiction treatment might better serve the individual and society at large.

So in 2010 Cameron was sentenced to serve five years in federal prison. This past December (2011) Cameron was given an additional four and one-half years, because he had been caught in prison with heroin and Suboxone. When the additional sentence was imposed experts felt it was unusually harsh, as most prisoners caught with drugs simply lose some of their prison privileges.

Here's a Reuters News covering the 2011 sentencing hearing:

This past week a group of well-known addiction doctors filed a legal campaign (brief) to argue that it is better to treat drug addiction, as opposed to sentence one to more prison time. This news prompted headlines in the New York Times and other prominent media outlets. This is a good thing, not because Cameron's story of addiction is unusual; but he comes from a well-known family which aids in making his story and others visible.

The New York Times article quoted one of the doctors who signed the brief - Dr. Robert Newman, the director of the Baron Edmond de Rothschild Chemical Dependency Institute at Beth Israel Medical Center:

"My outrage is as a physician for someone who has a medical condition which has been ignored...what the judge has imposed has zero benefits for the community and has staggering consequences for society."

Maybe this legal campaign can be a beginning. Maybe using the face of Cameron Douglas to start this battle will aid in getting the attention of the public and our legislators. Cameron Douglas is like your son, your nephew, your cousin, your brother, your neighbor, your co-worker or your spouse. Right now his is the face of addiction. Let's be hopeful that the efforts of these addiction experts can start the important conversation about getting treatment and offering treatment (even behind prison bars).

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