Treating Drug Addicts In Prison

Following our discussion in class about the rights of prisoners, I came across an article by Mary Carmichael that discusses many of the issues that were brought up  about treatment for drug addicts in jails.

The article discusses some of the key issues related to the rights of drug addicts, in which the question of treatment for addiction in jails goes beyond that of providing medical care, but on if drug users, considered criminals, should be subject to the same human rights as anyone else.

The article quotes Amy Nunn, a professor of medicine at Brown University, explaining that “In spite of all of the proven clinical and social and economic benefits of pharmacological treatment, people really have a moral opposition to it…They think if you’re providing people with treatment, you’re not addressing their addiction in an appropriate way. They think people who have addictions deserve what they get, and that the only way to treat addiction is abstinence, when nothing could be further from the truth.”

After researching extensively about this topic for my final paper, I have come to agree with Dr. Nunn that many people just cannot get away from the desire to blame the users for their addicted state, and this leads them to believe that they deserve to be punished for the weakness of their choices. When discussing their rights in jail, many people thus do not see the need to take significant steps in helping addicts recover, or let alone fund their treatment.

In contrast to Carmichael’s article about the necessity of treating addicts as patients in need, an article by Dr. Theodore Dalryample expresses the opposite view that we should not perceive addiction as an illness and that we should stop spending our money trying to treat it.

The author here claims that addiction is constructed as a disease but that it is in fact a moral problem, not a medical one. However, this article has a reoccurring fundamental flaw, in my opinion, which is often used to support the claim against viewing drug addicts as victims of their condition– It claims that the only reason addicts continuously engage in drug use is because of their fear of suffering the temporary physical withdrawal symptoms. This implies that addicts act cowardly and weak by not “toughing up” the consequences of drug-withdrawal in order to rid of their habit. This is an overly simplistic and naive way of looking at drug addiction, as anyone who has met a person with an addiction, ranging from heroin to even caffeine, knows that the psychological complexity of addiction goes way beyond the mere physical consequences of withdrawal. To me, this perspective undermines the importance of mental health as compared to  physical health, as it fails to recognize the necessity of treating physical, psychological, and mental conditions aspects of well-being equally. It also fails to acknowledge the complex environmental and social factors that play into addiction and the difficulty of recovering from it.

As long as people continue to blame addicts for their immoral actions of drug use, they will not consider them worthy of full human rights, and will not take steps to assure that their rights to health and dignity are provided. But referring again to rights of prisoners, even if drug-use was in fact immoral, criminal, and harmful to society–is it still right to deny people certain fundamental human rights?



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