May 7, 2009

Punitive policies to reduce drug use fail

Punitive policies intended to reduce drug use by making life difficult for convicted users are counterproductive, U.S. researchers found.

Study leader Juliana van Olphen of San Francisco State University and colleagues conducted focus groups and conducted semi-structured interviews with 17 women who had recently left jail.

Our conclusion was that punitive drug and social policies related to employment, housing, education, welfare, and mental health and substance abuse treatment make it extremely difficult for users and former users to live a normal life and reintegrate into society, van Olphen said in a statement.

For example, there is a federal ban on food stamps for people convicted of a drug offense and the one strike, you're out policy by which first-time drug offenders are evicted from public housing, van Olphen said.

These policies have adversely and disproportionately affected women, especially poor women, ruining their chances of finding employment, housing or education upon release, van Olphen said.

The stigmas -- created to act as a deterrent to drug use -- often wind up promoting it by limiting the options of the victims of the War on Drugs, van Olphen said.

The findings are published in the journal Abuse Treatment, Prevention and Policy.