Anaheim city leaders are trying a new approach to tackling drug addiction — waiting for chronic drug users to walk through the police station doors themselves.
While that seems a counterintuitive approach, it isn’t as crazy as it sounds — and could prove to be an important step to changing the way we look at drug addiction and treatment in the county. Part of Mayor Tom Tait’s citywide “kindness initiate,” “Drug Free Anaheim” is a policy in which those struggling with drug addiction can seek help at police stations and from officers in the field, and be put in contact with a nonprofit organization for treatment options, rather than be placed in handcuffs.
“Drug Free Anaheim provides a path to sobriety and [an] alternative to criminal prosecution,” Police Chief Raul Quezada told the Council, according the Register.
The report noted that the city is currently working on “finalizing the contract with Social Model Recovery Systems, which would start at one year at $83,800, with three optional one-year extensions.” Problematically, however, the “money would come from the city’s narcotics asset forfeiture funds.”
But while we remain as skeptical as ever of the dubious nature of asset forfeiture funds — and attempts at legitimizing them by backing more agreeable programs — and would prefer to see other funding sources explored, that shouldn’t distract from the message that Drug Free Anaheim sends. Rather than viewing drug addiction solely as a criminal justice issue, it offers hope that we can reclaim lives from drug dependence by treating addiction as just one of the many harmful living patterns that we’re led into by our fears and desires. The solution is not more government crackdowns, but rather treating adults like adults when it comes to what they choose to put in their own bodies and seek help.
Nations like Portugal have shown that another way is possible. The decriminalization of personal use, coupled with expanded drug treatment, has been an effective means of combating drug abuse in that country. It’s an approach worth considering, as 45 years and $1 trillion after Richard Nixon declared the “war on drugs,” it is clear our policies have failed.
Anaheim’s new policy is a step closer to success.