Drug treatment and the justice system

The issue of how best to treat and deal with drug addicts has always been a major challenge for regional governments, especially here in Guyana where many abusers of illegal drugs have taken to the streets as their permanent homes, thereby creating an additional burden to the health sector and society as a whole. A walk around Georgetown and other towns and commercial areas in the country will show the extent of the problem we currently face.
While some regional governments have been dealing with the matter from a legal standpoint, which focuses more on using the courts to punish offenders, and so on, some countries are still yet to holistically address the matter of treatment of drug addicts.
Drug dependence is partly regarded as a disease and should be treated as such. Treatment of the disease is important, since leaving it untreated almost guarantees that the drug-dependent person will relapse into drug use. Further, not only will it result in the drug-dependent offenders re-offending, it will certainly lead them to commit other crimes in order to feed their drug habits.
In Guyana there is need for better strategies and programmes to deal with the rising numbers of victims of substance abuse; this includes alcohol addicts. At the moment, opportunities for treatment and counselling and other forms of assistance are very few. Added to this, of the few that are available, their services are also costly.
It is important that strategies aimed at reducing the social and health consequences of persons, particularly those living on the streets, who suffer from substance abuse disorder be put in place.
The cost of drug abuse and related problems to our society is very significant at a time when many economies in the Region are faltering. These costs lie in law enforcement actions against drug traffickers and street dealers. While the costs to the health and welfare systems are only now being quantified, various studies on the subject show that drug abuse places significant additional strains on already overburdened health care systems.
Perhaps regional governments that have not yet explored the concept of having drug treatment courts could explore this option. Court-supervised treatment of certain types of drug-dependent offenders as an alternative to incarceration is a concept that has proven its value across different cultures as a means of reducing crime, reducing repeat offenses, reducing relapse into drug use, and reducing the prison population.
Jamaica recognised this in 1999, with the passage of the Drug Court (Treatment and Rehabilitation of Offenders) Act, and the establishment of two drug treatment courts in the country which has proven to be effective. It is encouraging to see that Guyana will now be moving in this direction. Certainly, this new system will provide rehabilitative services to offenders rather than have them incarcerated. Many experts have concluded that jailing offenders does not help them in any way, but rather pushes them to graduate into “bigger things”.
In many Caribbean territories, especially Guyana, there is a high proportion of prisoners incarcerated for drug-related crimes. While it is still difficult to quantify the drugs/crime relationship, there is sufficient evidence to connect drug users to crime and lack of citizen security.
It should be mentioned that the heart of success of drug treatment courts is the combination of treatment with judicial supervision and oversight. Without treatment, there is no drug treatment court. And without the power of the bench, the offender’s adherence to an often-lengthy course of drug treatment would probably be much harder. Drug treatment and the justice system therefore go hand in hand.
We are not saying that drug treatment courts are the magic bullet that will help all drug-dependent offenders, but certainly they offer a way out of the cycle of drugs and crime, since they are one sure way of addressing drug addiction and crime in our communities. The courts and the law can be more than instruments of deterrence or retribution, they can also help to improve the lives of offenders since the society as a whole is more than likely to reap the benefits. The authorities here must therefore move with haste in setting up the drug treatment court as promised.

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