Editorial: Treat record-high drug addiction in jail | TribLIVE.com

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.

Categories: Opinion | Editorials
TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.