Yesterday, Governor’s Councilor Robert Jubinville sent a letter to state leadership recommending we decriminalize heroin and establish state-run methadone clinics to combat the opiate overdose crisis. From the Taunton Daily Gazette:
“Hopefully this can start the conversation and start helping some of these kids instead of running them through the courts and ruining their lives,” Jubinville said.
In his letter, Jubinville says drug addiction is a disease that should be treated not punished. He applauded Gloucester Police Chief Leonard Campanello who earlier this year announced that his department would stop arresting addicts who show up to the police station to turn in their drugs and paraphernalia and ask for help.
Methadone clinics should be available in every courthouse, according to Jubinville, who described the drug as an “underrated tool” that can be administered by professionals to heroin addicts in a controlled setting, allowing people to function more normally in society.
This is a fantastic idea, long supported by drug policy experts across the globe. Decriminalizing drug possession has worked incredibly well in Portugal, which implemented the policy in 2001 and has seen reductions in overdoses, HIV, addiction, and many other harms related to drug abuse. A few countries, most notably Switzerland, also have programs where they provide heroin to addicts to help wean them off of addiction, connect them to other social services, and reduce harms such as theft by addicts to fund what is an incredibly expensive habit on the black market.
Massachusetts voters haven’t been asked directly about this before, but other polls make it seem like they’d support it too. Last year, MassINC published a poll on criminal justice, which included these findings:
By more than a 2-to-1 margin, people are more likely to perceive drug use as a health problem (64 percent) than a crime (24 percent).
More than four in five (83 percent) think sending drug users to treatment instead of prison would be effective in reducing crime. Drug trafficking is still viewed as a more serious offense, and far fewer would support leniency for those involved.
Despite these promising data points, there’s still a lot of misinformation and fear-mongering out there, so a bill or initiative to address this may be a heavy lift. But I think that given unprecedented public support for criminal justice reform, combined with our state’s overdose epidemic, now is the time to follow Governor’s Councilor Jubinville and push to decriminalize heroin.