Drug Addiction Rehab In The United States

Drug abuse and addiction has been an issue in the United States for more than 100 years, yet we continue to struggle with effective treatments. In 1917 drugs like morphine and cocaine were misused, and scientists began studying their effects as well as ways to treat individuals who were addicted.

drug addiction

Recently, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health revealed that 30 million residents over age 12 used illegal drugs in the past year, about 11 percent of the population. Among those drugs, the vast majority used marijuana, but about 3 million used prescription painkillers and more than 2 million used cocaine.

In 2017, more than 70,000 individuals died of drug overdoses, many attributed to illegal synthetic fentanyl, a powerful drug that is often mixed with street drugs like heroin. Heroin is more expensive and rarer than fentanyl, so the latter is used to boost the user’s high cheaply, but even a tiny amount can cause an overdose. The number of overdoses is so high that (when combined with a high number of recorded suicides) the deaths have caused the life expectancy rate to drop slightly, an unusual and significant statistic in this era of medical advances. Drug abuse deaths are highest among the 25-44 year old age group, who should be in their prime.

Role of law enforcement in Drug Addiction

Families of drug addicts and law enforcement officials alike are torn about the right direction to take when faced with a person who is in the grips of addiction. Laws may require that an individual in possession of illegal substances should be jailed, but police have recently recognized that tactic as ineffective, and have begun taking a more active role.

Resource officers in schools (as well as the D.A.R.E. program) may aid families and teens facing addiction issues as well by referring those at risk to seek treatment. Abusing alcohol, marijuana, Adderall (an attention deficit disorder prescription), or drugs stolen from elderly family members during high school is a serious issue facing students. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 50 percent of teen deaths are attributable in part to drug use and abuse. Teens may use drugs and alcohol to mask personal issues, anxiety, and depression. Use of drugs at a young age may translate into lifelong addictions as well.

A Johns Hopkins Medical School forum on law enforcement and drug addiction recently determined that police should step outside of their usual roles as impartial enforcers of laws on drug possession and sales to:

  • be equipped with and use the anti-overdose drug Naloxone;

  • train officers to understand drug addiction and find alternatives to traditional approaches like arrest;

  • become advocates for specific types of treatments;

  • advocate for and collaborate with community organizations that offer clean needle exchanges to guard against related disease outbreaks such as AIDS and hepatitis; and,

  • reduce overdose deaths by publicly supporting Good Samaritan laws that exempt people who call for help from arrest.

Most notably, the Johns Hopkins forum pushed law enforcement toward proactive positions that are revolutionary for police, including:

  • advocating for safe-use areas where addicts are monitored and protected against overdosing, and

  • working with local support organizations to provide fentanyl detection services that will reduce overdoses by alerting addicts to the presence of the dangerous additive.

law enforcement

Cooperation of Police with Drug Addiction

Some of the momentum behind the effort to get police to cooperate with treatment programs started in Gloucester, Massachusetts in 2015 when the police chief declared that addicts who reached out for help would not be prosecuted. Since then the effort has blossomed into an organization called Police-Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative (PAARI) that encompasses nearly 400 towns around the country. Through this program, police (and a cadre of volunteers) act as intermediaries in getting willing addicts admitted to treatment facilities. Similar initiatives have taken hold in places like Richmond, Virginia, where police try to intervene with addicts before they’re called to assist with an overdose.

Drug courts are also an important tool that law enforcement may encourage in their jurisdictions. These are an alternative justice to the traditional prosecution for individuals in possession of drugs, and may help keep families together by seeking a treatment-based outcome rather than punishment for addiction. When a person consents to having his case heard in a drug court (created by state legislation), he often consents to regular drug testing, taking classes, paying restitution, and staying away from behavior or locations that played a part in developing and supporting a drug habit. Drug courts are said to be more effective in keeping addicts from re-offending than traditional courts are.

Types of therapies for drug addiction

The Food and Drug Administration has identified the most successful treatment programs as those that use three approved drugs to wean addicts off the most dangerous opiates.

Most successful addiction therapies involve both chemical means (drugs) to ease the effects of withdrawal and desire with psychological techniques to resist sliding back into old habits. Many people who have tried to break the cycle of addiction need more than one period of intensive therapy, including inpatient programs.

Steps in the process of breaking the cycle of addiction can take place in a variety of settings, including inpatient treatment centers, outpatient treatment, and individually. In general these are the milestones that treatment seeks to achieve:

  • detoxification, including prescription drugs to ease withdrawal;

  • behavior modification to reduce cravings and opportunities to regress;

  • ongoing commitment to living drug-free, often through 12 Step-type programs;

  • addressing underlying causes of addiction and behavior that supports it.


More specifically, the Betty Ford Center breaks down the types of psychological behavior therapies that addicts may pursue. All of the following are aimed at self-awareness and a commitment to breaking old habits and practices:

  • dialectical behavior therapy

  • cognitive behavior therapy

  • acceptance and commitment therapy

  • motivational enhancement and interviewing

  • medication based therapy

  • mindfulness based cognitive therapy

  • 12 Step facilitation therapy.