Drug Policy Action Statement on Biden’s Calls to Add Additional Law Enforcement Funding and Proposed “Mandatory Rehabilitation” for Drug Use

Matt Sutton 212-613-8026

June 11, 2020 – Washington, D.C. – In the wake of the senseless police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless other Black and Brown people that have resulted in calls to defund the police, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden problematically responded by calling for an additional $300 million for “community policing” and proposed “mandated rehabilitation” as an alternative to incarceration for drug use. In response, Maritza Perez, Director of National Affairs for Drug Policy Action issued the following statement:

“We must remain vigilant of alternate ways the state can inflict violence on marginalized communities. One of those ways is through mandating people to receive treatment they do not want. Many of the same constructs that led to mass criminalization and incarceration are behind involuntary and coercive treatment, including racism, stigmatization, ableism, and profit over people. Involuntary and coercive treatment are billed as the solution to the problem of people who are unwilling to enter treatment. The root problem, however, is systematic inequality and lack of access to the resources, including attractive evidence-based substance use disorder treatment, that help people to live healthy, self-sufficient lives. Biden’s proposal ignores this and is merely an extension of our country’s punitive approach to drug use.

Substance use disorder treatment should be held to the same ethical standards as the treatment of other health conditions, where provision of services without informed consent is considered highly inappropriate. Biden fails to recognize the inherent rights and dignity of the people who use drugs, or who are otherwise targeted by the drug war, including the right of autonomy and self-determination.”

The Drug Policy Action supports efforts to minimize spending on police, primary enforcers of the racist, failed war on drugs, and to invest in social and other services that will repair the harms perpetrated on communities of color. Biden’s suggested use of funds, however, simply perpetuates continued state violence in an alternate form—mandatory treatment is not ethical or effective and undermines human rights and dignity.

To the extent Biden wants to provide substance use disorder services, those services should adhere to the following principles:

  • Treatment must be available on demand, and it should be affordable, accessible, and attractive.
  • Treatment must be grounded in respecting the human rights and dignity of all clients. Treatment should be provided in a voluntary, ethical, and client-centered manner in the least restrictive setting possible.
  • Treatment must be based on the best available evidence and must be consistently monitored and evaluated.
  • Treatment must address the needs of the whole person and be integrated with other health and social services.
  • Treatment must be culturally sensitive and responsive to the needs of special populations.
  • Treatment should be offered within a harm reduction framework such that expulsion based on relapse is prohibited, abstinence is not required, the use of degrading tactics is prohibited, the participant’s goals are used to define success, and harm reduction supplies are made available to those who desire them.

Coerced treatment mechanisms inevitably result in forcing people who do not have substance use disorders or who would naturally recover into services. The population of people who use drugs and need substance use disorder treatment is small, while the vast majority of people who use drugs do not develop a substance use disorder. Of those that do, most people will recover without participating in any formalized treatment or recovery services. Mandatory treatment can have a net-widening effect, continuing to trap people under an alternative form of state surveillance.

Adequate access to substance use disorder treatment and other support services that are attractive and affordable will increase voluntary treatment initiation and render mandated treatment unnecessary. Biden’s proposal would simply squander resources that could be used for people who actually want and could benefit from treatment.

“DPA stands with our allies in calling for justice for the victims of police violence and for a total transformation of public safety away from the criminal legal system and towards necessary investments in communities. We must fight to ensure such transformation does not embody the same insidious erosion of rights that are currently causing disproportionate harm to communities of color, however. Biden’s proposal, if not squashed now, would do just that.”

About Drug Policy Action

Drug Policy Action is the advocacy and political arm of the Drug Policy Alliance. A nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization, Drug Policy Action undertakes a wide range of activities including political advocacy permitted by 501(c)(4) organizations. Drug Policy Action works to pass new drug laws and policies grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights — and to elect candidates at every level who support these principles.