Reversing Stigma: Why Decriminalization of Substances and Disorders Matters

Reversing Stigma: Why Decriminalization of Substances and Disorders Matters

Many stigmas, taboos, and negative beliefs surround substance use and mental health disorders. Such views not only misrepresent and harm those affected with substance use and mental health disorders. They also create fear, isolation, and even prevent many from seeking the help they need. The legal ramifications further support these beliefs for those in possession or distribution of substances. In current times, there has been an effort to create awareness for those who struggle with mental and substance use disorders as people who require treatment, not punishment.

Furthermore, Measure 110 passed in Oregon and became the nation’s first all-drug decriminalization measure. The historic win represents a substantial shift in the public perception and support in favor of treating substance use as a matter of public health rather than criminalization. It is essential to raise awareness and understanding about what decriminalizing drugs means and how this pursuit can benefit the perception of mental health and substance use for generations to come. Let’s take a closer look at how decriminalizing substances can create better understanding and health awareness.

Decriminalization Benefits Public Safety and Health

Research shows on a global scale, reducing and eliminating criminal penalties for drug possession does not increase rates of drug use or crime. However, it does help to reduce addiction, overdose, and HIV/AIDS diagnosis. Furthermore, many people who need treatment and medical assistance might avoid it because of the public perception that those who use substances are likely to be criminals. However, decriminalizing drugs encourages those with a substance use disorder or mental health disorder to act to get help.

More than a million people were arrested in the US last year for possession. Furthermore, 86% of these arrests involved minor possession and distribution violations. However, these arrests do not help reduce the availability of drugs or the harms they can cause. Instead, current policies operate to divert law enforcement resources from serious public safety issues. Decriminalizing drugs will divert public resources used on arrests to better use, expanding access to effective drug treatment and other health services.

Eradicating Drug Arrests Can Help Families and Communities

Criminalizing substance use hurts families and communities. It also compounds social and economic inequalities and unfairly denies millions of people the opportunity to support themselves and their families. In addition, many of those arrested await pre-trial, which means they remain in prison while awaiting trial simply because they cannot afford to post bail.

Discriminatory enforcement of possession has also produced profound racial and ethnic disparities at all levels of the criminal justice system. Despite certain minorities using substances at similar rates compared to other groups, they comprise a more significant amount of those arrested for drug violations. Decriminalizing drugs can restore the perceptions within and around communities that drug use is a disease, not a crime. Those incarcerated would also need help get the proper rehabilitation instead of sitting in prison awaiting trial where they cannot generate income, care for families, or get help.

Decriminalizing Drugs Continues Conversations and Shifts Perceptions

The conversations and debates held over decriminalizing drugs have already created change. Defelonization is a stepping stone in seeking the benefits of decriminalization. Defelonization means that drug law violations get reduced from felonies to misdemeanors. The 2014 defelonization in California substantially reduced the number of people in prison and local jails. The savings in cost were reallocated to provide needed services. Unfortunately, though, this practice does not go far enough, and misdemeanors still have criminalizing consequences.

Complete removal of criminal consequences remains a priority for those experiencing substance use to seek help without fear of arrest. However, by continuing the conversation, the idea of decriminalizing drugs across the US has become an unavoidable subject that policy, the public, and leaders must help solve. These conversations have created more awareness surrounding substance use and mental health disorders and even changed the language used when discussing certain disorders. It is beginning to develop a public perception that is understanding and more open to change. It is encouraging and suggests that more states will start to implement the changes that Oregon has.

Won’t Decriminalizing Drugs Increase Dependency and Crime?

Some fear that decriminalizing drugs will create more dependency and crime. However, there is no such evidence or indication of this being true. On the contrary, research shows from the US and around the world that treating substance use as a health priority instead of a criminal one is a better model for keeping communities healthy and safe. Furthermore, the information attained from other countries, such as Portugal, indicates how decriminalization can be beneficial nationwide. Portugal decriminalized drug possession in 2001. Since then, drug use has remained about the same. However, arrests, incarceration, disease, overdose, and other harms are down. Additionally, HIV diagnosis dropped dramatically from 1,575 cases in 2000 to 78 cases in 2018. Drug fatalities also significantly decreased.

The efforts to decriminalize drugs in the US have created widespread optimism. Oregon’s experiences with passing Measure 110 create more inspiration for reform and policy across the country. While you might feel apprehensive about seeking help, despite these changes, understand that there are places where you can find treatment today and not feel judged. At Choice House, we provide a safe and comfortable space for men to express their substance use and get the diagnosis and treatment they need. Our effort is motivated by finding the care through conventional and alternative approaches for each individual we see and providing a voice for those who might not yet have one. Our model operates to implement lasting recovery and raise awareness within communities to help strengthen the community by eradicating the stigma and providing a real education on substance use and mental health disorders. Your voice and your actions help accomplish a better understanding and improved public perception. To find out more, call us today at (720) 577-4422.

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