Incarceration will not help drug users kick the habit

Accounts of some of those who have been incarcerated suggest that far from being deterred and learning the error of their ways in prison, they learn the tricks of the trade from others and become tied to a drug-taking social network and culture on th
Accounts of some of those who have been incarcerated suggest that far from being deterred and learning the error of their ways in prison, they learn the tricks of the trade from others and become tied to a drug-taking social network and culture on their release.PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER

The Government's recently announced implementation of a new custodial regime for drug users that is based on rehabilitation and recovery from drug use is to be applauded (Law amended to focus more on rehabilitation of drug abusers; Jan 16).

There is now a wealth of published peer-reviewed scientific evidence, showing that, if psychoactive drugs are used repeatedly, users will become powerless to drugs and their lives will become increasingly destructive and unmanageable.

Once addiction sets in, users find out that their best efforts are likely to fail without professional help, no matter how desperate they are to cease the habit.

Neurological changes in the brain and body, genetic vulnerability, isolation, the positive and negative reinforcements of the drugs, peer pressure and the availability of drugs, as well as depression, anxiety and other mental disorders consequent on drug use will simply make them helpless.

It is no surprise, therefore, that the suffering and stigma arising from incarceration acts as a weak deterrent for many who are addicted to drugs, and those with strong drug-taking risk factors who are contemplating it or experimenting with drugs.

Anecdotal accounts of some of those who have been incarcerated suggest that far from being deterred and learning the error of their ways in prison, they learn the tricks of the trade from others and become tied to a drug-taking social network and culture on their release.

It is therefore important that they have somewhere to go after release with a drug-free culture, and have support from recovery groups like Narcotics Anonymous and peers.

There is also scientific evidence that individual, couples and family psychotherapy as well as a well-monitored recovery regimen supported by experienced recovery peers, have good long-term outcomes.

With our youth more vulnerable than ever to drug-taking normalisation on the Internet, it is vital that as a society, we are guided by strong evidence-based science in tackling drug addiction.

Andrew John da Roza

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 21, 2019, with the headline 'Incarceration will not help drug users kick the habit'. Print Edition | Subscribe