Further Reading

What do you think of New York's decision to put all drug "addicts" through treatment?

Dear Dr. Peele,

Thank you for your web site. You validated for me a lot of thoughts and opinions I developed when someone close to me was coerced into one of these 12-step treatment programs. This past week New York has announced an expansion of treatment programs for "addicts" instead of jail. Can you explain to me how they can do this in a state that has deemed it unconstitutional to coerce people into 12 step/AA indoctrination programs? I haven't seen anything mentioned about choice of treatment. I see this as opening the door for more coercion, overdiagnosis, and overtreatment. I find the statement that it will save taxpayer dollars highly suspect since I've seen what these treatment centers cost.

Lois L.


Dear Lois:

I enjoyed your letter. The June 23, 2000 issue of the New York Times announced, "New York to Offer Most Addicts Treatment Instead of Jail Terms," by Katherine E. Finkelstein. Its first paragraph: "New York will become the first state to require that nearly all nonviolent criminals who are drug addicts be offered treatment instead of jail time, in an effort to sharply reduce both the number of repeat offenders clogging the courts and the population in the state's prisons and jails."

Interestingly, the Times itself had a critical article on this initiative a few days later (June 26, 2000) entitled, "Drug Plan is Clear-Cut in Theory," by Joyce Purnick. This article pointed out that the initiative — announced by New York's chief judge, Judith S. Kaye, faced a number of problems — primarily legislators and prosecutors who disagreed with her. Before deciding that all of these individuals are backward thinking Neanderthals, consider that Manhattan district attorney Robert Morgenthau said, "We've long supported more money for treatment. But I'm not one to jump into something not knowing all the details. . . . This is not a simple process."

Among other problems, New York has mandatory minimum prison sentences for felony drug offenders, so the program would only apply to those facing misdemeanor drug convictions. Moreover, "the court system is so crowded and short of judges now that light or even suspended sentences are the norm for [drug] misdemeanants. Why would they agree to a year or two of drug treatment instead? Jonathan Lippman, the state's chief administrative judge, says the drug court judges would use the specter of tough sentences to pressure the defendants into choosing drug programs." [In other words, the system would have to become more coercive to get people to take advantage of treatment. Of course, as the letter writer notes, no mention is made that New York's highest court, over which Judge Kaye presides, has ruled that the state cannot compel people to attend 12-step programs — where compulsion means offering significant rewards for treatment enrollees.] To attach a real-life case to this story, consider the one described by a mother involving her college freshman son.

Best,
Stanton