I talk to a lot of law enforcement professional as the North Miami Police Chaplain and they are frustrated. Everyday they go out and put their life on the line to protect our community from criminals, most of whom are high on something. Some of the veterans I’ve spoken with tell me that they often arrest the same person over and over again. They start out as youth offenders who, over time, become habitual criminals with a long and sorted rap sheet of drugs and crime. It seems as though no matter what you do, nothing changes. You put these criminals away under the auspice of being rehabilitated while paying their debt to society. Yet they come out of prison a more harden criminal and addict then when they went in.
It’s a never ending cycle. Sure the faces on the mug shots change but the underlying story stays the same. A kid gets high on drugs and starts committing crimes – sometimes simply because he’s high and other times because he needs cash to pay for his habit. The kid grows to become a man but his behavior doesn’t change. I know the circumstances – I’ve been counseling addicts for nearly thirty-years. They’re some of the most resourceful people you’ll ever meet.
Could you imagine what addicts could achieve if they would just channel their resourcefulness in the right directions? I’ve seen first hand what they can achieve and how productive they can be for our society. I’ve counseled addicts who’ve gone on to become business titans, professional athletes and musicians, teachers and even law enforcement officers. My biggest challenge is communicating this message to the people in the system – primarily judges – who make the decisions. If only someone in power would just take a few minutes to listen, I could help diminish the cycle of youth offenders becoming hardened criminals.
Perceptions are always hard to change but realities are even harder to ignore. The stark and glaring reality in this case is the role drugs play in youth offenders which has increased to an alarming rate. Taking drugs off the street has not attenuated drug use to any measurable significance. In fact, not long ago an officer told me that busting drug dealers reminded him of Whack-A-Mole, an arcade game he used to play in his youth. Every time you whack a mole another one pops up some place else. Supply will always find its way to where there is a demand.
These issues are not going to go away on their own. Traditional thinking that addiction is a character flaw has led to the current strategies that began failing the second they were enforced. To have any real success at all in reversing the persistent cycle of drug related youth offenders turning into seasoned criminals; there needs to be a fundamental shift in how we think of addiction and an understanding of how it affects individuals’ behaviors.
Not long ago my good friend and colleague, Dr. Kenneth Blum did a study at my drug rehab center. Dr. Blum is a world renowned geneticist whose seminal discovery of the reward gene – also known as the addiction gene and the alcohol gene – over twenty years ago permanently changed the understanding and treatment of addiction. After decades of research he found that people who carry this gene (DRD2-A1) have a genetic predisposition to addiction. They cannot feel the reward and pleasure others experience in everyday life. As a consequence, people with this genotype often turn to external sources like drugs and/or alcohol – not to get high – but to alter their brain chemistry so they can feel normal. Of the people we had tested at my center, 74% carried the addiction gene. Dr. Blum says this is consistent with other studies he’s conducted.
In saying that, it is imperative that we first recognize addiction for what it truly is – a disease. Before any progress can be made in ending this vicious cycle, we must accept the fact that addiction is a hereditary condition. It begins in the womb and begins attacking its victims at birth. It is also equally as important to know that a genetic predisposition to addiction is not a prediction of one’s future; but rather an indication of what one’s future could hold if the condition is not addressed by professionals.
Like many diseases, addiction is manageable. Early intervention is a key step to effectively controlling the disease. It’s paramount to begin treatment at the first signs, like using and committing crimes. What I am suggesting is that our legal system adopts a policy of ideally mandatory – or at least optional – addiction treatment for first time drug using youth offenders. The incentive for the defendant would be reduced sentences for those who complete the program.
The idea may be revolutionary but by no means novel. Policies similar to the one I’m proposing have been successfully put in place by quite a few municipalities. One program that comes to mind was implemented in Vermont. A single judge required drug using youth offenders to undergo an evaluation at the time of arraignment to determine if addiction treatment was a feasible option. When the results were positive the judge made treatment a requirement for release. A program such as this forces young defendants to start thinking of taking steps to change. Of the participants who went through this program, the recidivism rate was just 18.7 percent. This is far better result when compared to the estimated 84.3 percent recidivism rate of those who did not go through the program.
For the life of me I cannot understand why we do not have a system like this in place in our community right now. It’s just the right thing to do. A program like I’m proposing would take potential criminals off our streets and make our community safer. It would reduce the recidivism rate. It would save lives both victims and perpetrators.
From a budgetary standpoint, this is a very cost efficient program that will save tax payer’s dollars. Less crime means fewer expenses for local taxpayers. We’d be incarcerating fewer people in our already overcrowded jails. (Footnote: studies have shown that up to two-thirds of the prison population have addiction issues while less than 17% get any type of addiction treatment at all.) It has proven to lower the recidivism rate which would translate into less congestion in our legal and court system.
What is of paramount importance in making a program like this successful is the quality of the addiction treatment program the individual receives. When I was in rehab, it wasn’t working for me the way it was for others. I felt that too much of the emphasis was placed on moral character and not enough energy was directed towards other aspects of addiction. This was a driving force in opening my own ‘holistic’ center where we treat the body, mind and spirit. There have been so many discoveries since my days in rehab that treatment is barely recognizable. At my center we treat addiction like a mosaic with scientifically proven-evidenced-based therapies. We do a complete and comprehensive workup on everyone admitted to our center. We test for heavy metal toxicity, thyroid hormone disorders, hyperglycemia, nutrient deficiencies, allergies and closed head injuries then treat the individual accordingly. In addition we are the only center in the country that has a genetically directed therapy consisting or two proven effective nutraceuticals.
I’ve always been and still am a firm believer in personal responsibility. Everyone needs to be responsible for their own actions and behaviors. One of the first things I tell people seeking my help is that they have a choice to use or not use drugs. But these are people who already know they have a problem and are working towards solving it. Over time and as new science has emerged, I’ve come to accept the fact that for some the choices they face are clearer then for others. It is with this in mind along with the points I made above, that the program I’ve outlined is absolutely essential to diminishing the vicious cycle of drug using youth offenders turning into lifelong harden criminals.
John Giordano DHL MAC is a counselor, President and Co-Founder of G & G Holistic Addiction Treatment Center in North Miami Beach and Chaplain of the North Miami Police Department. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to call me directly at 305-945-8384. Also for the latest development in cutting-edge treatment check out my website: www.holisticaddictioninfo.com