UMass Medical School criminal justice expert Julie White writes that it took a paradigm shift over 102 years to pass the Comprehensive Addiction Recovery Act (CARA), historic legislation that recognizes addiction is a disease and aims to provide services for prevention and recovery from substance abuse, in a blog on The Huffington Post.
“This legislation is commendable not only because it was passed by Congress with strong bipartisan support during an election year, but because it acknowledges the disease of addiction and that we cannot arrest or incarcerate our way out of this problem,” White, senior director of operations for the Health and Criminal Justice Program, a unit within UMass Medical School’s Commonwealth Medicine division, wrote in the blog. “Funding from CARA will help support evidence based prevention and treatment programs, and increase access for the life-saving medication, Narcan.”
White explains that the first comprehensive legislation to address substance use and abuse passed in 1914 focused on criminalizing the sale of illegal substances with no regard for treatment. The shift toward legislative support for CARA began in 2011 when The American Society of Addiction Medicine characterized addiction as a disease, and there was increasing concern about incarceration rates and the opioid epidemic, White wrote.
CARA passed the Senate July 13 after being approved by the House a week earlier.
“Moving forward, the programs and policies that evolve from CARA will need to be continuously and comprehensively monitored to ensure evidence based practices are sustained and appropriate quality improvements and enhancements are added,” White wrote. “As practitioners and policymakers, we must also recognize the potential collateral consequences, and be prepared to address them as they arise.”
The Health and Criminal Justice Program focuses on research and scholarship, education, and service and consulting. The program manages contracts to provide health services for the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ Federal Medical Centers in Devens, Massachusetts, and Butner, North Carolina, and in Federal Correctional Institutions in Ray Brook, New York, and Berlin, New Hampshire.
The program also operates the Academic Consortium on Criminal Justice Health, which sponsors an annual international, peer-reviewed conference on correctional health and health policy. The 10th Academic & Health Policy Conference on Correctional Health is March 16-17 in Atlanta, Georgia.