Introducing a public health approach as a solution

Addiction and substance abuse needs to be seen less as a criminal justice issue, but instead as a public health crisis

Society needs to start looking at addiction as a public health crisis, rather than a criminal justice issue. Created by: Jaclyn Labes

Looking at Addiction as a Public Health Issue

In order to find the fix for addiction, there needs to be a strong public health plan implemented in order to create safer, stronger communities and to stop this issue.

A strategy that is used to find a solution for addiction is known as the Four Pillars Drug Strategy. This strategy includes four basic principles:


The goal of the pillar of prevention is to stop the problem before it starts. In order for prevention to occur, individuals need to be educated and solutions need to be made regarding health care, public education and training in areas of employment. If strategies are made for prevention efforts, then families would be protected, public health would be improved and taking drugs would stop before they are even picked up for the first time.


The treatment pillar includes programs that are used as intervention programs that are made in order for addicted individuals to feel supported.

“I’m not perfect. But today I am joyous and free. And you know what’s interesting I look forward to coming to these parent support groups,” Lona Spalark, a parent in recovery, said. “I look forward to coming into these rooms and seeing my friends again. Talk about a 360 degree turn, I’m it.”

If those who are suffering from addiction feel as if they are not supported, then they might not feel ready to make the lifestyle switch of taking the first step to get clean. If intervention is going to be successful, it needs to happen early on. Those entering treatment services also need to be reminded that other side effects may occur and additional treatment may be necessary, such as withdrawal counseling, community health services and detoxes. Funding for treatment is something that needs to be addressed in this area of the pillar, as well, for the issue of public health.

Harm reduction

The pillar involving harm reduction was created in order to protect individuals and communities from the dangers that are associated with the buying and selling of drugs, whether it is done legally or illegally. Harm reduction interventions are held in hopes to stand as a solution to the “open drug scene.” Harm reduction also calls for no harm to happen towards those that are suffering from addiction, but that they receive the help that they need in a comfortable, safe setting.


The pillar of enforcement involves keeping order between all of the other pillars and keeping on top of the issue of substance abuse and public health, so that solutions can be enacted.

These pillars, when enforced and practiced, can provide solution results involving the amount of deaths per year to addiction and the lessening of addicted individuals taking drugs off of the streets.

Written by: Jill Nawoyski

Drug Court as a Solution

Drug Court serves as a way of changing addiction and abuse to a public health problem from a criminal justice approach that arrested those who needed treatment. Created by: Keith Brown

In order to switch the approach to dealing addiction and abuse from a criminal justice issue to a public health problem, something that is being implemented increasingly is drug courts. Instead of arresting those struggling with addiction and abuse, drug court offers an alternative for those who want another chance at getting rid of the disease of addiction and substance abuse, and get on with their lives if they are able to complete their treatment program.

“We’ve had people who have been very successful business people and we’ve had people who are homeless,” former Washington D.C drug court judge Honorable Greg E. Jackson said. “Men and women, we’ve had people who were pretty up in age, and who have been using drugs for a long time, and finally at 40, 50, and even 60, had decided that they don’t want to live that way anymore, and that they were open to and willing to participate in drug treatment.”

Drug court serves as an incentivized program, as once it’s completed there is a possibility of having charges dropped or expungement of a criminal record. Most drug courts are either pre-trial, which means treatment can be completed and they can graduate before ever going to trial, or post-trial, which means that the judicial process takes place and drug court is offered through probation. This is major as criminal records usually stand in the way of acquiring an occupation once released from incarceration, forcing many to turn back to the ways that landed them in the predicament in the first place.

“So coming back into a community where we are not technically ready to deal sometimes with these types of disorders–makes it difficult for the person coming back,” criminology professor at Cabrini University Vivian Smith said. “We then have policies and laws in place that makes it very challenging for the person to gain a respectable life.”

Drug courts provide recovering users with the facilities and treatment programs needed to fight their addictions. If the person recovering is successful in completing their treatment, they then go on to graduation, where the judge and those who worked with the person in treatment, give their blessings to move forward from the court. It is a ceremony that can be attended by the family of those who’ve completed treatment.

“Well at least among a population of people that we saw in drug court, many of them had underlying mental health issues. They also had trauma and abuse in their life and for many of the people we provided services to in drug court, those were some of the main contributing factors to their drug use,”  Jackson said. “Trauma and abuse was huge. I in the beginning didn’t recognize how prevalent that was for people, and the cause, or underlying cause for their drug use. And of course, if you have those kinds of situations people need treatment, but if treatment is not available then they turn to things that will allow them to self medicate.”

With more than 3,000 drug courts nationally, we are on the path to correcting our past mistakes and moving forward as a society.

“So I just I think that one of the things I like people to think about, the history of America and the history in terms of how we deal with substance abuse. And hopefully we learn from our mistakes and we learn how we should deal or not deal with things,” Smith said. “I think we’re heading in a better direction, but I think we have a lot of work to do in order for us to make true policy changes that are gonna be long lasting and not just focusing on what’s going on at that time, at that moment.”

Written by: Keith Brown

Drug court can possibly reduce recidivism and drug use amongst offenders. It serves as an alternative to arresting our way out of the problem of addiction and abuse. Created by: Keith Brown