A colleague sent me this article about how a speedy referral to a drug treatment program makes for greater chance of success. At once, I felt pleased and frustrated. Pleased that attention is being paid to a program that truly works. But frustrated because none of what this program does is new. Courts and substance abuse treatment programs have known for SOME TIME that the sooner you get someone to treatment, the quicker and better it works.

For many years, I worked for a substance abuse program in the metro-Boston area that served young people and their families. We had on-going relationships with various court programs. If a kid was caught committing a crime and it was known or suspected that alcohol and drug use played a role-even a minor one-that kid was referred to us. We’d quickly conduct an assessment and more often than not, place the kid in a mandatory peer-group designed to help its members examine the role that alcohol and drugs had played in their actions. At worst, all of the kids had to withstand learning things about the topic of drinking and drugging that they would otherwise not have known. But a lot of the kids began to see a pattern: the more they used the more likely they were to get into trouble. Even if they weren’t “addicts”, they began the process of choosing to do things that would lessen the likelihood of engaging in health-compromising behaviors. And for the kids who were carrying a legacy of substance abuse, we could hook them up with more intensive treatment options. All this without perpetuating their criminal record.

And let’s face it. If you get in trouble for anything related to your drug use behaviors these days, the likelihood of legal consequence making it near impossible to lead a normal productive life is huge!

Once you have been branded a criminal or felon, you are typically trapped for life. For the rest of your life you must check the box on employment applications asking the dreaded question: “Have you ever been convicted of a felony?” And once you check that box, the odds are sky high that your application is going straight to the trash…About 70% of those released from prison return within a few years, and the majority of those who return in some states do so in a matter of months because the challenges associated with mere survival on the outside are so immense. -Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow/Mass Incarceration in an Age of Color Blindness

A few years ago, I had to train my new and undisciplined puppy. After researching different methods, I chose the “capture the behavior” method. The second the dog does something you want her to do, reward her. The second the dog does something you don’t want her to do, express your disapproval-strongly. Very quickly, the dog learns. Now humans are more complicated and when it comes to addiction, I’ll be the first to admit that methods to promote health are not always easy to employ. But a basic premise of this dog training method is act swiftly and clearly and you and your animal will benefit. Just look at the data.

The Vermont Center for Justice Research published an evaluation of Rapid Referral. Of 171 participants who went through Spectrum’s program since early 2009, the recidivism rate was just 18.7 percent. For a follow-up evaluation published this October, researchers generated a test control group of 394 people (selected from 14,000 whose criminal records closely matched those of program participants). They found that the recidivism rate among the control group was 84.3 percent. –For Drug Users, a Swift Response Is the Best Medicine by DAVID BORNSTEIN

The numbers don’t lie! Treatment works and while some treatment programs are better than others, no treatment leads us NO WHERE! We need to move beyond relying on individuals and institutionalize effective strategies. We need to recognize that all these people waiting to go to jail and then ending up in our prison system is not working. At best, we are perpetuating the very problem we espouse wanting to prevent!