McCormack Speaks

The Criminality of Impairment: New Solutions Can Help Not Only Drug Users


By an anonymous McCormack Graduate School student

bottle of painkillersImpairment conjures up the images of intoxicated bar patrons causing trouble at the end of the night or a drunk driver being stopped by the police. However instead of alcohol being a primary factor in crimes these days, law enforcement is now seeing a trend that drugs, especially opioids, fuel most violent crime, property crime, and impaired driving.

In recent years, the National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence has seen a steady increase in substance-related crimes resulting in three types of drug crime: use, economic, and system-related. System drug crime is associated with the sale, manufacturing, and transportation of illegal narcotics. Primarily this is where law enforcement focuses most of their resources to, as they say, “take the head off the snake.” However, we are more familiar with use and economic drug crimes as these often affect individuals at a personal level. Use crimes are committed by those individuals under the influence of drugs, while economic crimes are attributed to those that help finance a drug habit. These drug-related crimes can often manifest in youth assaulting parents following an argument over drug use, impaired driving, or even shoplifting.

Then what?  How does law enforcement handle drug crimes?

At the initiation of a criminal case, a member of the District Attorney’s office will reach out to the victim of the crime to gain his or her input about what has occurred. If the victim is a family member, he or she frequently seeks assistance for the drug user, like enforcing a drug free condition or random drug screens. While these victims do seek help for the family member, they usually do not want them to have a criminal record due to their addiction. In the case of third-party victims, although they also seek help for the drug user, they are less willing to drop criminal charges.

If the offender is deemed harmful to himself, he can be sent to a rehabilitation facility. Should he choose to self-enroll in a recovery program, such programs require that criminal charges be resolved before entry.

Is this system antiquated? Is there more we can do for those who are suffering with addiction?

The statistics show that we need to invest in new solutions. Nearly 50% of prisoners suffer from drug abuse and addiction but fewer than one in five receive the treatment they need. Without rehabilitation, “approximately 95% of inmates return to alcohol and drug use after release from prison, and 60 – 80% of drug abusers commit a new crime (typically a drug-driven crime) after release from prison.”

The Massachusetts criminal justice system has made some improvements by adding drug courts where judges monitor the progress of the defendant through recovery programs making sure they comply with all court requirements. Though more can be done to ensure that individuals get the help they deserve.

The Commonwealth needs to look into and fund mandatory recovery programs and better monitor individuals with probation. In my opinion, these options will not only help drug users, but their families and society as a whole.

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