Although recent efforts to treat the opioid crisis as a public health problem rather than a criminal justice problem have gotten a lot of attention, the fact is that about a third of U.S. states have enacted tougher anti-drug laws in the years since the CDC declared the opioid problem to be an epidemic.
This suggests that the public policy debate as to whether addiction can be solved through mass incarceration is still very much alive.
Since 2011, eleven states have adopted tougher penalties for opioid possession or trafficking. The states are Alabama, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, North Dakota, Ohio, Texas, Vermont, and West Virginia.
Three states – Delaware, Kansas, and Pennsylvania – have approved longer jail sentences for people who sell or share a drug that results in an overdose death.
And two states – Florida and Illinois – have adopted both kinds of laws.
Particularly troubling to some is the growing use of homicide and manslaughter charges against drug addicts who shared drugs with friends, resulting in an overdose. This can mean very long prison sentences for people who were, in a sense, a victim as well as a perpetrator.