Stop perpetuating terrible stigma and effectively deal with mental health and addiction


To the Editor:

In attending a meeting on Page County to address ideas to make our community healthier and creating a better quality of life, the leading problem talked about was mental health and those suffering from addiction problems, SUD, and the need for partnerships to help address this problem.

I have been looking into other places that address this issue and Portugal stands out as the leading plan by decriminalizing drugs and setting up a board that finds alternate solutions like rehabilitation services.  Taking those suffering from this tragedy out of the court system and into medical and counseling facilities. Some states like Oregon, and others including Virginia, have begun to take the War On Drugs mentality out of the equation because it has failed in dealing with this serious problem despite the fear mongering of those in the justice system who say it won’t work, not admitting that incarceration rarely does either.

“The U.S. has the highest rate of incarceration in the world, a rate that has increased 500 percent over the last 40 years,” according to the Sentencing Project. Prisons are full of people serving time on drug-related convictions, yet most experts agree that prison sentences rarely deter drug use, especially among young people.

According to a 2018 report by the Cato Institute on “The Budgetary Effects of Ending Drug Prohibition”, federal, state, and local entities spent about $48 billion in 2016 on drug prohibition. Decriminalization of all drugs can reduce government spending and generate tax revenue, freeing up resources to expand treatment services for substance use and mental health disorders and other community services.

“Virginia lawmakers are also working to get the state to begin considering drug decriminalization, although they’re setting out at a slower pace than the other states. A joint resolution introduced last week by Del. Sally Hudson (D), HJ 530, would task the state Crime Commission with studying alternative approaches to drug enforcement, including decriminalization of the possession of substances.”

Language of the proposed resolution argues that “the War on Drugs has entailed overwhelming financial and societal costs, and the policy behind it does not reflect a modern understanding of substance use disorder as a disease or substance abuse as a public health problem.”

“Traditional legal interventions, including arrest and incarceration, have proven ineffective in treating addiction and promoting public health,” it continues, “requiring new approaches that emphasize treatment and rehabilitation over arrest and punishment.”

I know there are families that have lost loved ones to this tragedy and wish those who gave it to them were locked away forever, but they have families too and incarceration does not solve the problem. Medical help in rehab and counseling have a far better chance in this community than incarceration that just perpetuates more tragedy for our community. Children without parents, grandparents raising them, wives without financial support, parents without the love of their sons and daughters, no momma around, etc., etc.

And those who sell in their neighborhood in small amounts are treated in the war on drugs mentality as the scum of the earth, excluded in programs that can help and given large amounts of time in prisons. They are not doing it for profit, but to get that next high that their body so craves above any moral compass that might be left in them and without viable affordable rehab available.

Look at just the last six months of indictments in this county — 80 percent drug related, and just this month 29 indictments with 27 drug related. A lot of it due to recidivism, a sure sign of failed incarceration procedures.

Judges, jury, police officers, commonwealth, etc.…if you don’t seek another solution besides this constant incarceration and down-right, strong-arm arrests of those with addiction problems, you are guilty of creating a greater harm on this community that has been proven as a model of failure. We have made small steps in a drug court and have an awesome public defender legal team headed by Tim Coyne to find alternate solutions, but the net must be cast wider.

Contact your legislature to support decriminalizing drugs and creating a model like Portugal did and other states are doing. Get involved and partner with any groups that can better facilitate mental health issues across this community. Stop perpetuating the terrible stigma for those suffering from addictions and especially the tragedy imposed upon their loved ones by constantly making them criminals instead of real people needing serious medical, rehab and counseling services.

We can do better!

Joy Lorien ~ Luray, Va.

••• offers an open forum for the public in its LETTERS section. We encourage letters of local interest by those who live in Page County, Va.; however, we welcome all letters on all subjects from all readers. PVN reserves the right to publish letters at its discretion.




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  1. Anti social behavior should bring stigma.
    The problem is not how society responds to unlawful use of dangerous drugs.
    The fundamental problem is that people choose to use dangerous drugs for recreation.
    They find themselves firmly in the very traps we warned them against.
    Addicted despite society’s best efforts to control these substances.

    Personal choices should have personal consequences.

    You advocate freeing drug abusers of responsibility under the law.
    I have no objection.
    Provided you also free society from our responsibility to them for those choices.
    No taxpayer funded assistance of any kind for problems caused by their anti social choices.
    No welfare, no disability pay, and no taxpayer paid treatment programs.
    Sign the waiver of taxpayer assistance and here is your ‘stay out of jail’ card.

    The choice to improperly use controlled substances gravely harms society.
    Society has rights here too.
    Among them is to turn our backs on those who fail in their duties to us.

    • Tom you need to educate yourself a little further on the affects of serious addiction that has become a tragedy across this Commonwealth and nation. By filing it under anti social behavior is a tunnel vision opinion of what has become a national tragedy

      I encourage you to look and study further and a start is an excellent documentary called Heroin- The Hardest Hit about so many people who started out with medical injuries and given opiates that led them down to a rabbit hole to blown out addiction including heroin. This was not recreational use but prescribed medicine and why we see preventive measures now in place to control opiates

      And even what starts out as a recreational choice can turn into a medical problem that can be addressed. There is no silver bullet but wouldn’t you want the rights of society you speak of have favorable preventive measures in place to protect them? Because this continual incarceration and criminal charges has failed terribly and finding other solutions just may save one of your family members from what you so disdain.

      Recidivism is rampant a sure sign of incarceration failure. And on the financial aspect you speak if it’s million even billions of money to house and take care of the overflowing jails and prisons of drug users. Wouldn’t you want your tax payer money going to a program that seeks to heal and rehabilitate rather your need to make them criminals who will come out with a terrible stigma of who they are before they went in?

      Just asking

  2. Joy,
    I appreciate your good intent.
    Recidivism is not the fault of the criminal justice system.
    It is due to the very dangerous nature of these drugs and the choice to use them.

    We spend a great deal of effort educating people about the dangers of these drugs.
    When that fails our court system uses the carrot and stick approach to dealing with drug offenders.
    Sentencing and probation for first, second and third offenders are targeted towards treatment, diversion and rehabilitation.
    I think that compassionate approach is a good use of our tax money.

    It takes many repeat offenses to get a place in the overcrowded jails you describe.
    Most who do have committed many other crimes to support their drug needs.
    This too is a good use of our tax money.

    Selling and using these drugs is not just a personal matter.
    They are a danger and offense to society and are properly crimes.

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