We need a better way to treat drug abuse in America

Posted by Richard Lawson | Oct 30, 2017 | 0 Comments

It was recently reported in the news that there were more than 60,000 deaths from drug overdoses in 2016. As a Georgia Attorney who works in criminal law, I see how our legal system exasperates the problem.

The legal system is a poor place to “help” those who are struggling with drug abuse. If you think about it logically, the legal system starts with the arrest of someone. An arrest is a violent act. An arrest is a frightening act. An arrest is a humiliating act. An arrest has collateral consequences such as job loss, lost educational opportunities, family shame, potential marital difficulties, and psychological trauma.

After being traumatized and victimized by an arrest, should we expect that the human being who is an addict will trust the legal system for help? No, we should not.

The idea that the legal system can force people into changing their behavior is only believed by people in the legal system. For anyone else, with any common sense, such a belief is nonsense.

The legal system is about submission, first and foremost. The force of government makes the arrest, then commands a person to attend court. At court, the judge orders a person to make changes. Then, the probation office enforces the order.

Never in this “perfect system” does anyone even consider whether the addict has any buy in and whether the addict can see that such changes are both necessary and beneficial to their lives.

In sales, we learn that it is important to provide what a person needs and to help that person understand why they need it. When Apple markets a new iPhone, they do not simply tell people they have to buy one. They do not explain the specifications or the speed of the processor.

They explain to their customers why the product will benefit and enrich their lives. They show customers taking pictures, listening to music, watching movies, and communicating with their parents halfway across the world.

Apple is an expert at giving people the "why." Apple knows how to convince people that their products and services will make them happy.

The court system never gives people a reason to make changes. In fact, forcing change can cause resentment and disrespect for the system.

Very often I have attended so-called accountability courts, like drug court and DUI Court. I have witnessed people play the game of pretending that they are being helped by the program. Yet, these same people tell me outside of court that they are only saying the program is helping so that they can complete it and resume their lives. They are not being helped.

I am also called by people, all the time, who have been charged with a new DUI or drug arrest after they have completed an accountability court program.

Those programs fail people because they do not give people the reason for real change. The court system is no place to "help" drug addicts.

However, the court system does an excellent job of ruining the lives of the family members of addicts. The people who suffer are the spouses and children of people who are prosecuted and forced into these programs.

I understand the people who run these programs believe they are helping others. I am not saying they are bad people. I am saying that they can learn a great deal from companies like Apple.

Unless a person knows why they should change and has a “buy into” those changes, nothing will happen. They will return home to their families uncured and even more broken than before they started.

The court system cannot cure drug addiction. 60,000 people died in 2016. Many of those people were in, or have been, involved in our legal system. I do not have all the solutions or even a solution. What I do believe, however, is that we need to incentivize success. We need to do what our best businesses understand, convince people why getting better will improve their lives.

About the Author

Richard Lawson

Managing Partner at Lawson & Berry:


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