Medical Community Supports Drug Addiction Treatment
Marking a shift in public opinion about how to treat substance abuse, 61% of California voters last week approved Proposition 36, the ballot initiative that calls for treatment of many nonviolent drug offenders instead of jail time. That shift coincides with the medical community's attitude change toward treating substance abuse, the Los Angeles Times reports. Dr. Drew Pinsky, an addiction specialist at Pasadena's Las Encinas Hospital, said that a decade ago many physicians "did not know how to deal with a patient with a substance problem." Citing treatment referrals and 12-step groups, Pinsky said, "Doctors are tuned in now. There's no longer the draconian notion that (drug abuse) is a willful process that bad people engage in. It's a disease that has a treatment, and the treatment is effective. It's about time we behave accordingly." Dr. Gary Jaeger, incoming president of the California Society of Addiction Medicine, agreed, saying, "It makes as much sense to put (addicts) in prison as it did to lock up schizophrenics 100 years ago" (Ferrell/Warren, Los Angeles Times, 11/13). However, not all treatment professionals believe that Proposition 36 will work in practice. James Stillwell, executive director of the Pasadena-based Impact Drug and Alcohol Treatment Center, said that there is often a waiting list at the 130-bed Impact facility. He "doubts" that the current number of treatment facilities will be able to accommodate the estimated 36,000 nonviolent drug users who will be directed toward such centers under Proposition 36. He and other workers at Impact also believe that incarceration can be an effective rehabilitative tool for some drug users. Alphonse Duran, an Impact case worker and former drug user, said, "I hate jails. I've spent most of my life there. But sometimes it's what changes people" (Hall, Los Angeles Times, 11/13).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.