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Drug addiction and criminal charges: Part of a vicious cycle

Drug addiction remains a serious problem throughout the United States, including Massachusetts. When people are addicted to drugs, they may face repercussions within the criminal justice system because of the illegality of many drugs.

This poses a challenge to these individuals and their family members because of the vicious cycle that can move users between drug use, criminal charges and significant consequences -- and back to the addiction. The best way to break this expensive, destructive cycle is to get addicts the help they need.

An unhealthy focus on punishment

The adult criminal justice system focuses on punishment of offenders, not on learning or rehabilitation. When an adult is charged with a drug crime, like possession, distribution or trafficking, he or she might be incarcerated and thus also suffer financially and socially. Throwing an addict in jail or prison doesn't address the addiction; it only provides short-term consequences for the person (and, in turn, his or her family) for the crime committed.

In many jurisdictions, drug court programs may be available to defendants. These programs aren't suitable for everyone, but at least they offer more constructive rehabilitation for the drug problem plaguing the defendant's life. Still, various factors can prevent an accused offender from being able to participate in drug court.

The revolving door

In many cases, a person who is convicted of drug charges might end up right back in the criminal justice system. By some measures, people in "the system" have a 37 percent chance of being arrested for new charges while they are on probation or parole if they aren't on drugs.

That chance increases to a reported 48 percent for people who are addicted to drugs. According to a 2011 White House report on drug use and crime, almost half of all state prisoners were drug dependent or drug abusing.

Breaking the cycle

Many experts think there is a better way to break the cycle. Rehabilitation is often cost-prohibitive for some of the addicts who need help the most. The cost of the revolving door incarceration system is far too high for tax payers. All of this should be a call for changes to be made.

People who are facing drug charges should explore available options to determine which ones will give them the greatest chance of success.

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