Issue 1 Defeats the Purpose it Purports to Serve

Member posts do not nessecarily reflect the views of the Cleveland Psychological Association. The Issue 1 information sheet certified by the Ohio Ballot Board can be found here.

By Nancy Duff-Boehm, Ph.D.

Although Ohio’s current drug policy results in too much incarceration and too little treatment, and these procedures need to be fixed to provide the most effective and humane solutions to the current epidemic of dangerous drug use in our state, Issue 1 would set us back a decade in the progress we have made toward this goal. There are three problems with Issue 1.

One, judges and probation officers need leverage to counteract the force of addiction. The most effective treatment for drug abuse includes two indispensable elements: close, careful monitoring and clear, immediate consequences for violations. For example, physician health organizations have an 80-85% effectiveness, because they use monitoring (frequent and random urine testing) and immediate, meaningful consequences (suspension or loss of license to practice medicine).

Drug Courts in Ohio use the same monitoring method, but as leverage use the threat of jail time. Treatment providers and Drug Court personnel (judges and probation officers) collaborate on helping addicts choose the difficult path of facing pain over the promise of quick relief promised by drugs. The consequences of use need to be stronger than the promise of relief and avoidance of pain. The pull of the drug is too strong to resist with no counter force. Issue 1 effectively gives individuals three more chances to kill themselves with an overdose.

For young adults, the next level of consequence is provided by Children’s Protective Services: the threat of losing one’s children. Now, this consequence is used if jail time hasn’t been enough and children are being neglected or abused because of the effects of addiction. Do we want to make the children in our community the pawns in this war, the first line of defense? Do we want to have to wait until things at home become that bad before we apply a meaningful consequence?

Secondly, Issue 1 lists fentanyl as an equivalent drug to marijuana, methamphetamine and heroin, although it is up to 100 times stronger, and therefore more lethal, than heroin, the next strongest drug on the list. Many a dealer would go free and many more users would be at risk for overdose.

The third problem with Issue 1 is that it is written as a constitutional amendment. We need laws that support the evolution of policy as new methods of treatment are developed and become available. A  constitutional amendment subverts the flexibility in law development that is the hallmark of our U.S. Constitution. It is an extremely unwieldy tool to correct a problem for which we have been slowly evolving to real, lasting solutions for many addicts.

Ellen, a young woman addicted to opiate pain-killers, had been caught and was on probation (her name is changed for privacy, but she agrees for me to share her story). She had two babies at home and was now pregnant with her third. Her husband was supportive but worked, and her parents were available as back-up. When Ellen was in pain, she lapsed and took a Vicoden the day before she had a meeting with her PO. She was late for the appointment and her urine was dirty. Nevertheless, she was shocked when the PO sent her directly to jail that day. She protested, “What?! I’m pregnant and you are putting me in jail?!” She did, and this was the turning point in Ellen’s recovery.

Four years later, Ellen sends prayers of gratitude every day to that Probation Officer for starting her on the road to recovery. Ellen now has been clean for almost four years and is a sponsor and helper to many others in the recovery community who are stuck in the same vortex that she was in. She says, “I do not know where I’d be today if it were not for that probation officer. Probably still on the street.”

One more point: Proponents of Issue 1 say that lowering the incarceration rate will free up funds for treatment; however, there is no process by which the saved funds will be identified or how they will be used for treatment. Do we trust that somehow the saved money will be given to treatment centers automatically? Who will be responsible for that process? Which treatment centers?

Vote No on Issue 1. Do not let this foolish, impulsive attempt to overhaul a complicated problem in one huge blast to dismantle the important successes we have attained in our decades of work on this problem. Instead, we need to make treatment widely available and accessible, including tight systems of monitoring and meaningful consequences for violations.  For now this means jails. Let us work together to develop alternative treatments that work and allow the process to evolve.

P.S.: If I were a burglar or domestic violence perpetrator and Issue 1 gets passed, I would always make sure I had some drugs on me, because that would ensure that I would get off on a misdemeanor, unless I molested a child or murdered someone. The judges would be that constrained.

Dr. Duff-Boehm is a clinical psychologist and Master Addictions Counselor, who has directed Intensive Outpatient Programs in North Olmsted and Beachwood since 1998 under Psych Services, Inc, an ADAMHS certified practice.

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  1. Alex William Uzdavines, M.A.

    Oct. 24, 2018

    Many of the factual claims in this piece are factually incorrect on even a basic reading of the language of Issue 1. As an example, the "PS" statement is outright false. You can not escape other charges just by having a small amount of drugs in your pocket while committing a crime. If Issue 1 passes, you can still be charged with burglary, you just wouldn't have a felony drug charge added on top of that for having a small amount of heroin in your pocket at the time of arrest. The amount of baseless scare-mongering in this piece demeans the profession of psychology.