Drug Abuse: Disease or Crime?

More and more Americans understand that drug abuse is not a crime but rather a medical disorder that requires treatment. The revolving door that is the criminal justice system as it pertains to addicted offenders has demonstrated that putting someone driven to crime by addiction in jail doesn’t give them the tools to avoid making the same mistakes in the future. But is allowing them to go free in favor of rehabilitation a better choice?

A survey released by the Pew Center and published in The Atlantic found that about 67 percent of respondents felt that addiction-related crimes should be addressed with treatment while only 26 percent thought that imprisonment was a better option – 7 percent were undecided on the topic.

The question they were asked: “In dealing with drug policy, should government focus more on providing treatment for people who use illegal drugs such as heroin and cocaine, or do you think it should focus more on prosecuting people who use these types of drugs?”

What’s your response?


It’s true that some people commit violent crimes while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Others commit violent acts in order to traffic drugs or get enough money to buy more drugs. Whether or not addiction drove the violent crime, these offenders would not be eligible for a treatment-only response from law enforcement.

However, those who are charged with possession, being under the influence (as long as it did not put others in danger, as in a DUI charge), or buying a small amount of illicit substances don’t learn from going to jail. In fact, many report that it is inside prison walls that they make connections that later increase their level of crime, the type of drug that they use, or the amount of drugs that they use.


Standing in front of a judge is a sobering experience for many. There are few other experiences that can demonstrate more effectively that one is on the brink of losing everything due to drug use. Getting the offer of treatment rather than going to jail can push many who may not have otherwise enrolled in rehabilitation to get the help they need to begin the healing process. Learning how to stop drug use rather than learning how to avoid getting caught for drug-related offenses helps the addicted person, their loved ones, and the community as they stop being someone who harms themselves and others.

What Do You Think?

Should those who are arrested for drug and alcohol use and have a clear need for treatment go to jail or go to rehab? Leave us a comment below and share your thoughts.