Is Susan Hawk an addict? On Harm Reduction

DMN has a story alleging Dallas DA Susan Hawk has struggled with prescription drug abuse and may continue to do so this day. The story links her struggle to erratic behavior in office (firing top assistants) and alleges a trip to a rehab facility in California. There seems to be a certain irony when DAs or ADAs are accused of potentially illegal behavior. Being addicted to pills is not always a criminal offense. Many people with chronic illness become reliant on the medication it takes to function normally. They have legal prescription but their bodies can not cease taking these drugs without repercussion, physical or physcological.

Having represented a lot of addicts I can tell you that going to treatment does not “cure” them. It can give them tools to succeed, but addiction and addictive personalities are something that come from biological and psychological underpinnings that are very difficult to change. Rehab helps many, but some still struggle even after many trips to rehab. Thank your DNA and brain chemistry that you not are predisposed to addiction before judging a “junkie” or “pill popper”.

The focus on treatment instead of prison is a welcome change in recent years, but we are still using the criminal justice system to address a public health issue with an “abstinence only” model when it comes to use and probation. There is a reason a dirty UA is called a “technical” violation even though it’s evidence of a crime, because they are so common we can not afford to revoke all those who fail a piss while on probation. And because probation is a shitty way to help addicts.

In Texas we still largely criminalize addiction, being caught with pills without a prescription can be a misdemeanor  or felony depending on the amount, and there is no defense for driving while intoxicated for those who are taking only prescribed drugs. We are so tough on crime, that we criminalize those who seek treatment for a condition (e.g. back pain) and then become addicted or reliant upon those treatment to function. What happens when someone gets addicted to opiates after a car accident, and then loses their health insurance? Addiction finds a way.

If Susan is struggling with prescription drug abuse how can we best help her, and others like her? Arrest? Put them on probation? Or maybe, just maybe, if being addicted to medication wasn’t seen as a weakness, or a crime, we could reach more people and help them manage their addiction in a medically safe way, or turn away from it altogether? Instead of being a shameful thing to hide, we could view addiction like the flu, or any other illness.

I hope that instead of a rush to judge Susan the people of Dallas will realize that we all know addicts. They deserve our compassion and assistance, not handcuffs, cages, or probation. They are not beneath us, or different than we are. They are your neighbors, your friends, your doctor, lawyer, your elected officials.

We need to move to an era of harm reduction. In a State where even DAs struggle with alcoholism and potentially even prescription drug abuse, it’s time to consider that maybe our criminal justice system isn’t the place to treat addicts. In fact, it’s because we use the criminal justice system to “catch” addicts we force others who need treatment to hide their condition and not seek help. The millions upon millions in tax dollars we spend on jails, lawyers, cops, hearings, appeals etc could all be better spent on doctors, counseling, and treatment.

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