Editorial: Treat record-high drug addiction in jail
Addiction threatens our safety and our wallets.
We know that people have drug problems. If it isn’t in your family, it’s an other-people problem. If you don’t take pills, or heroin, or cocaine, why is it something that you have to think about?
It’s because more of the people around you are doing it. If your home is your castle, drug addiction and the problems that accompany it are getting closer to your door every day, circling it like wolves.
And you are paying for it.
On Monday, the Westmoreland County Prison Board heard a sobering statistic. Of 239 new inmates in May, 204 were addicted to drugs or alcohol. More than 85% needed detox, and 40% of those are addicted to opioids. Warden John Walton said the numbers are at record levels.
But if patterns are true, that record won’t last long. The numbers have been floodwater high this year and today’s record seems likely to be dwarfed by tomorrow’s.
The people who sell the drugs, the people who buy them, the people who steal from family members, the people who graduate to stealing whatever they can to support a craving that eats them from inside, the people who hurt others because of what the drugs do to them — all of them pass through the justice system.
We pay to arrest them and to prosecute them. We pay to jail them and to treat them. But how much is spent on that treatment and what is the return?
Walton said the amount spent on medical costs is minimal but also that detox costs have not been calculated. Those statements seem at odds. We should know what the costs are so we know funds are being allocated the right way. Does it need to be more? Is it all they can do? How much would real treatment that could ultimately be less expensive than recidivism be? Is there treatment that would work better?
According to the federal Bureau of Prisons, lockup drug treatment that is “well-designed, carefully implemented and utilize[s] effective practices” can do everything from cutting criminal activity to affecting inmate misconduct to increasing education and employment after release.
“Collectively, these outcomes represent enormous safety and economic benefits to the public,” the BOP states.
Westmoreland County Coroner Kenneth Bacha said in March that overdose deaths were at a four-year low, with fentanyl deaths down 40%. The Allegheny County Medical Examiner just announced a 41% drop in overdose deaths overall.
The disparity in what’s being seen in the jail versus the morgue says that fewer people are dying from drugs but more people are living with them and ending up behind bars. Whether they are there awaiting trial or serving a sentence, treatment is beneficial to the addicted, the county employees and the taxpayers.