Will President Trump’s Death Penalty Really Deter the Opiate Crisis?August 23, 2018 - Substance Abuse - 0 Comments
Is the Death Penalty a Solution to the Opioid Epidemic?
Let’s talk about the death penalty and the opiate epidemic problem that has affected millions of lives across the country. Addiction to these substances is often very overpowering and is something that takes a lot of willpower to overcome. One of the toughest parts about it is that many opiods are available legally for people who are suffering from pain. As a result, many people get addicted to these substances without ever having done drugs illegally before in their lives.
So when President Donald Trump declared that there was an opiate epidemic shortly after taking office, many waited with bated breath to see what this controversial leader would suggest. His plan was as surprising as expected, as he called for the death penalty for certain types of opiate dealers. Would this approach work or would it only lead to more problems? Particularly since it does little to discuss recovery, mental health problems, or dual-diagnosis as treatment options for addiction.
President Trump’s Plan is Multifaceted
While the death penalty is a significant part of President Trump’s opioid epidemic plan, it is not the only element. For example, he is asking for stiffer sentences for those who use drugs like heroin, cocaine, benzo, pills, Xanax, and Opiods illegally but also calling for better treatment for those who suffer from addiction. The idea behind the plan is mostly to attack those who sell drugs and to prevent them from continuing to get Opiods to those who are addicted.
The plan is somewhat similar to those of other presidents in the past but is harsher. For example, the idea of death sentences was something not discussed under President Obama and not even under President Bush. This more hardline stance is in line with the harsher and more punitive stance that the president has taken on a multitude of subjects.
Many individuals in his inner circle praised his idea and claimed it would be an effective way of managing the spread of opiates. They argued that cutting off the flow of illegal opiates (and restricting the prescription of legal ones) would deter crime and minimize the spread of this dangerous epidemic. However, many in the legal world would disagree.
Is the Death Penalty a Successful Deterrent?
The concept of the death penalty as a deterrent to crime is nothing new. In fact, it comes up under debate every few years by people who agree with its use and those who want to ban its. However, the basic idea behind it is understandable, and it is easy to see why President Trump has latched on to the death penalty as the ultimate deterrent to opioid crime, rather than rehab, detox, or residential mental-health treatment options.
The idea behind it is that people who know that a crime could cause their death are less likely to commit it. For example, some states attempt to deter violent crimes, such as murder, by making it punishable with the death penalty. Hopefully, lawmakers think, those who would commit these crimes will think twice before doing it and will stop behaving in such violent ways.
Unfortunately, the truth about the death penalty is much more complicated. For example, multiple studies of violent crime have found that states with harsher sentences, particularly death penalties, did not have lower crime rates. In fact, states that did not have death penalties often had lower rates of violent crimes than states that did have the death penalty.
And while it is easy to argue that the lack of a death penalty didn’t decrease violent crime, it does show a disconnect between the theory behind this punishment and its reality. Even worse, 78 percent of the law-enforcement officials said that the death penalty had nothing to do with deterring the murder rate. Nearly 91 percent stated that it was just a ploy for politicians to show that they are tough on crime.
Just as critically, 94 percent stated that there was little to no evidence that supported the use of the death penalty as any deterrent. A full 91 percent said that increasing the regularity of executions would not help nor would speeding up their time. And another 75 percent stated that the death penalty was a “bandage” solution that did not address the real problems behind these crimes and which ultimately distracted legislatures from practical solutions.
It should therefore not be surprising that many public figures have since come out against the death penalty, including former attorney general Janet Reno. She said that it did “little to prevent crime” and that only the “fear of apprehension” could cause a deterrent effect. Frank Friel of the Organized Crime Homicide Task Force in Philadelphia stated that the death penalty “…hinders the fight against crime.”
Others stated that the death penalty wasn’t something that most hardened criminals thought about when they were committing a crime. The idea of whether or not a crime could get them killed didn’t cross their mind when they were committing it. The same is likely true of heavy-duty opioid dealers. They are dealing these drugs to make a lot of money and would likely barely think of the death penalty.
That said, most of these quotes and studies were focused on the death penalty as a deterrent for violent crimes, not drug dealing. And President Trump doesn’t seem focused so much on using it as a deterrent but on eliminating those who deal opiates illegally. Literally killing drug dealers might seem like it would stop the opioid epidemic but there would always be new people willing to get into place to make money selling drugs.
Higher Prison Terms Also Don’t Do Much
Another aspect of President Trump’s anti-opioid plan is to give people harsher sentences for drug convictions. The idea here is similar to that which fuels the idea behind death penalties. If a person is afraid of the amount of time they will serve in prison, common sense would seem to dictate that they are less likely to commit those crimes. Again, however, the reality of the situation does not match the concept.
For example, a study was undertaken by the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Public Safety Performance Project to gauge how successful harsher sentences were at stopping drug overdoses and deaths. The director of the project stated that there was “doubt” that “stiffer prison sentence terms deter drug use.” He was particularly doubtful about the idea that harsher sentences stopped distribution and drug law violations.
The reasons here are obvious. Those criminals who are distributing and selling Opiods illegally are making way too much money to be afraid of a harsh sentence. And many of them have become so good at selling drugs that they have made enough money to be practically untouchable. Any high-level dealer has the instincts and the skills necessary to avoid going to prison at all.
The people who tend to get hurt most by these stiffer sentences are those who are addicted, rather than those who provide for their addiction. That’s because these individuals are usually ordinary people who have average lives and who try to live a straight and narrow lifestyle. That’s why opioid dependence, especially prescription addictions, are prevalent among people who are otherwise law-abiding citizens.
And many times, those people who commit crimes to get money to buy opium are given unusually harsh sentences and given no kind of treatment for their disease. This approach is comparable to arresting a person with cancer for attempted suicide. Addiction, like cancer, is a disease and throwing people who are addicted in prison is not the right step. And harsher sentences for dealers and users will do little to help.
For example, the study mentioned took a look at drug imprisonment rates versus the number of deaths that occurred per 100,000 people. New York, which had a ranking of 41 for drug imprisonment, had an overdose rate of just 11.6. However Louisiana, with the highest rate, had over 15-16 overdose deaths per 100,000 people. While that might not seem like much on paper, breaking that down over a state with millions of people, the death toll rises by thousands of people. Even worse, the study found that stricter drug laws:
- Created crowded prisons
- Slowed down the court system
- Cost the tax players billions of dollars
- Ruined the lives of millions of people
- Produced meager results
More importantly, it was found that a majority of Americans believed that harsher sentences were not the best way to break the cycle of addiction. More people were calling for medical treatment and care for addicted individuals, not harsher penalties. Another rallying cry is the idea that legalizing drugs would help with this problem. But is that true?
Would Legalizing Drugs Help?
The opposite approach to President Trump’s idea is to completely legalize the use of all drugs, no matter how dangerous they can be to a person. For example, if a person wanted to use opioids like heroin, they could get a prescription or even buy them over the counter. These changes to the law are often proposed by civil liberty groups who believe that taking away a person’s right to drugs is wrong.
That said, there are others who argue that legalizing drugs and controlling their production and sale would make the federal government billions of dollars and practically balance the budget overnight. Just as importantly, it would provide those who are addicted to drugs with safer versions and would help to avoid the kind of severe overdose death that kills thousands every year.
But is this approach a wise one? Many argue that it is not. For example, some state that such an approach would:
- Make drugs easier to obtain
- Cause earlier addiction
- Increase drug overdose deaths
- Boost addiction rates
These facts are particularly prominent for those who have opioid addictions. That’s because opiates are particularly hard to combat when you are addicted to them. They become necessary for your body to operate healthily. Being without them can cause a person to have severe withdrawal symptoms that may even threaten their life. However, proponents will argue that the same is true of alcohol, a legal drug. They will also point out that cigarettes kill more people than opioid overdoses every year.
On the other side of the debate, others argue that making drugs completely legal would be more likely to increase opioid addiction and cause even more opiate overdoses. If they were easier to get, people would be more likely to take them too often and suffer the consequences. That kind of extra burden on the medical and insurance industries would cause a ripple effect that could easily outweigh any benefits earned from making drugs legal.
Ultimately, it is clear that completely legalizing the use of all opiates, such as heroin, and treating them like alcohol would only normalize their use. Imagine the number of people going to parties and bars and doing drugs instead of drinking alcohol. Puffing on an opium pipe would be normal, dropping benzos and other pills would be commonplace, and heroin addiction would become an even more significant danger.
As a result, it is tough to come up with a solution that would meet an appropriate middle ground between too much legislation and too little. Clearly, the death penalty and harsher sentences are not the way to go here. However, full legalization could open a Pandora’s Box of dangers that are impossible to predict. Therefore, the best way to help those who are addicted to opiates is to get them the high-quality medical treatment that they need to recover.
How the Medical World Manages Addiction
The best way to help people overcome opiate dependence is to go through treatment like dual-diagnosis. This high-quality medical management method identifies any co-occurring mental-health disorders that could be complicating your recovery, finds a way to treat them, and provides an individual with a chance for redemption. Often, these kinds of centers pair detox with cognitive behavioral therapy and other types of curing methods in a residential environment.
Going to a residential center is wise because it makes it easier for you to pinpoint the problem in a healing environment. That’s because you’ll be surrounded by people who are in a similar health situation and who need help recovering. Knowing that other individuals are in the same position as you can give you the focus you need to beat dependence and reclaim your life. And being in an inpatient center also makes it impossible for you to find and use drugs, forcing you to go clean when your cravings for opioids get high.
Hopefully, it is possible for more individuals to understand the importance of rehab and detox, rather than punitive addictions. These benefits can help a person beat addiction to cocaine, benzos, pills, Xanax, and other types of drugs. Just as importantly, it can help keep them out of prison and avoid the death penalty if such changes are implemented by lawmakers.
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