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Truth Pharm: "Incarceration for Drug Offenses Increases Overdoses"

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Truth Pharm organizers hosted members from the local organization JUST (Justice and Unity for the Southern Tier), Monday, discussing the increasing rates of jail incarceration for drug offenses, and how it adversely affects the 'War on Drugs.'

Alexis Pleus, Executive Director of Truth Pharm, welcomed three guest speakers to talk to event-goers about the rising number of drug-related offenders in jails, or prisons, and the reverse-effects it actually creates. According to one JUST speaker, Kevin Revier, although removing someone that committed a drug crime from society may have an immediate effect on the public, by placing that person in a more toxic environment, like jail, it puts them at risk.

"Incarceration does not address drug-related issues in the community: indeed, it often creates more," said Kevin Revier.

According to the National Association of Drug Court Professionals (NADCP), the United States' incarceration rate has exploded beyond its capacity. 1 in every 100 U.S. citizens is now confined in jail or prison, most are detained for drug abuse problems.

One statistic the Truth Pharm event addressed, nearly 80% of those incarcerated abused drugs and/or alcohol, and almost 50% of those inmates are clinical addicts. It's a troubling fact, according to Alexis Pleus.

"This is an extremely important and often misunderstood topic. We can't arrest our way out of the [opioid epidemic]. Our criminal justice system is not a corrective system," said Alexis Pleus.

One JUST member claims the Broome County Jail stands out as a serious problem, "Broome County has the distinction of having the highest amount of incarceration rates of any county in New York State," said Andrew Pragacz. Pragacz said he hopes the public will some day understand that more is needed to help people struggling with addiction, and just "throwing someone in jail" doesn't teach them how to stay a contributing member of society.

"Many of the people inside of the jail have substance abuse disorders, they have mental health problems. Those problems are not going to be solved by incarceration," said Pragacz.

JUST and Truth Pharm have a few suggestions they hope will someday be instituted within the criminal justice system. Alexis Pleus hopes that incarcerated individuals will be given treatment options for after-care possibilities, teaching drug users the tools they need to get clean and stay clean.

"If we are going to address addiction issues we actually need to address them with treatment and make treatment readily available," said Pleus.

Kevin Revier and Andrew Pragacz believe a reformation of jail institutions is necessary to change addictions and overdose deaths. They said after collecting first-hand accounts from people that have gone through the penal system, many individuals find themselves in a worse situation then when they found themselves entering jail.

"If someone incarcerated gets released after being isolated, they're tolerance has dropped and they pick right back up where they left off. Now they're at risk of overdose death," said Revier.

And if anything shows incarceration isn't the proper way to promote a lifestyle devoid of drug use, Andrew Pragacz feels the staggering number of those that return to drugs, 95%, proves his resolve.

"What do you think is going to happen when people get out and can't find a job, don't have access to appropriate services? They go to the place [Broome] put money in the most over the last 40 years. Jails," said Pragacz.

Three major steps JUST and Truth Pharm believe must take place in order to reduce jail population is; releasing 75% of those in Broome County Jail that are un-convicted of a crime, allow those incarcerated to have access to their prescribed medications (including Suboxone) within daily regulations, and refrain the use of solitary confinement for young, elderly, or individuals clinically proven to have mental or physical illnesses. 

According to Drug Policy Alliance, since the inception of the War on Drugs in 1971, American taxpayers have dished out over $1 trillion dollars. And with the U.S. spending $50+ billion dollars yearly, Truth Pharm and JUST hope something changes...soon.