Opinion | The Complexities of Addiction Treatment – The New York Times

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To the Editor:
Re “A Novel Drug Decriminalization Plan,” by Maia Szalavitz (Opinion guest essay, Sunday Review, Jan. 30):
Ms. Szalavitz entered dangerous territory with her essay about the experience of Oregon and Portugal with the decriminalization of drugs.
Of course, those with a substance use disorder deserve treatment — not prison — to address their addiction. But to suggest that America should follow Oregon’s approach, especially before the data are in, is a mistake.
Oregon’s policy change was opposed by recovery groups, law enforcement and addiction practitioners alike — because it doesn’t actually require any treatment (and early results show fewer than 1 percent of users have received treatment). How can anyone believe that offering those facing addiction a choice to pay $100 or call a hotline — with no accountability whatsoever — is going to help them, or society at large?
Ms. Szalavitz glosses over key details about the approach used by Portugal, a country that prioritizes and invests heavily in treatment and accountability. To be sure, our country needs a better approach to drug policy, one that integrates public health with public safety and demands high-quality treatment, wraparound services and supervision to ensure compliance. Drug courts are a good example. But decriminalization without accountability, which ultimately leads to the full legalization of drugs like heroin, fentanyl and methamphetamine, will only worsen our nation’s addiction problem.
Kevin A. Sabet
Mitchell S. Rosenthal
New York
Dr. Sabet is president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana and a former White House drug policy adviser. Dr. Rosenthal is president of the Rosenthal Center for Addiction Studies and founder of Phoenix House, a nonprofit drug and alcohol rehabilitation organization.
To the Editor:
The United States should swiftly adopt the Oregon model for decriminalization of personal-use drug possession to address the opioid use crisis, and the associated viral hepatitis epidemic.
Hepatitis C, which affects an estimated 2.4 million Americans, is largely tied to the opioid use epidemic. Injection drug use is now the main risk factor for new hepatitis C virus (H.C.V.) infections, and an estimated 80 percent of new H.C.V. infections occur among people who inject drugs. Rather than stigmatizing this population with criminal penalties and limited treatment access, the United States must provide easy access to lifesaving medications.
Data from Portugal have shown that its decriminalization model, which Oregon’s is based on, has not only shown declines in overdose deaths and addiction rates, but also significant drops in hepatitis B and C infections.
With policies that destigmatize drug use disorder and provide treatment to vulnerable populations, we can also root out related public health issues, including hepatitis C.
Daniel Raymond
New York
The writer is the director of policy for the National Viral Hepatitis Roundtable.
To the Editor:
Oregon’s new plan for drug offenders is working for thieves but definitely not for law-abiding citizens or for neighborhoods. Addicts seem to be emboldened. Petty thefts have risen drastically, and the police won’t even bother to investigate: underfunded, understaffed and no jail space. Thieves know that if they are caught, they will receive only a ticket and orders to appear later for a hearing. Most never show up or pay the fines.
The police tell victims of theft that such incidents are considered “crimes of opportunity.” Thieves are looking for easily grabbed items that can quickly be converted to drugs or to cash for drugs. Everything that is not locked down is a target.
Jean Rubel
Eugene, Ore.
To the Editor:
Maia Szalavitz gets it right when she touts Oregon’s decriminalization of drugs as a hopeful step toward reducing the stigma associated with drug use and advancing access to addiction treatment. While state funds are starting to flow to chronically underfunded treatment providers who are now charged with solving an age-old problem almost by themselves, it’s critical that every law enforcement dollar saved — and then some — is invested expediently in evidence-based treatment and recovery services.
As law enforcement focuses on other issues and drug policy reformers celebrate, let’s make sure frontline providers and those who are imprisoned not by cops but by addiction have access to the help they need.
Jeffrey L. Reynolds
New York
The writer is the president and chief executive of Family and Children’s Association in Garden City, N.Y.
To the Editor:
Re “CNN Chief Out for Concealing a Relationship” (front page, Feb. 3):
The humiliating forced exit of Jeff Zucker as president of CNN is about more than the fall from grace of yet another powerful media figure, or another embarrassing black eye for a once respected news organization. It’s about damaging the credibility of the news business as a whole.
During his nine-year stint at CNN, Mr. Zucker never fully grasped the huge responsibility a news executive has in today’s world, when unbiased, fact-based news reporting is under siege.
Instead, Mr. Zucker, who as president of NBC Entertainment signed Donald Trump for “The Apprentice” and presided over the likes of the gross-out reality show “Fear Factor” and sitcoms like “Friends” and “Scrubs,” approached CNN as entertainment as well. He shamelessly pursued younger demographics through the razzle dazzle of reality-style documentaries, on-air bickering by partisan pundits and political debate framed as sport, especially when it involved Mr. Trump.
That may be entertainment. But it sure isn’t news.
Greg Joseph
Sun City, Ariz.
The writer is a retired journalist and television critic.
To the Editor:
Jeff Zucker said of his relationship with another CNN executive: “I was required to disclose it when it began but I didn’t. I was wrong.” Wow! How refreshing and seemingly increasingly unlikely it is for a prominent individual such as Mr. Zucker to simply tell the truth and admit wrongdoing. Thanks, Mr. Zucker, for being forthright.
Marc Chafetz
Washington
To the Editor:
For years, my husband and I have had a daily ritual: We make our way through your digital front page, usually on our phones, often while trying to wake up or fall asleep. Sometimes we are in different rooms, shouting our reactions to each other.
This year, though, his resolution is to read the news much less. Why? Because your home page has become a wholly depressing experience. Last Sunday’s edition was a perfect example, with an impressive range of bummer topics: dark money in Democratic politics, mental health challenges plaguing American teenagers, a retrospective on Bloody Sunday, the resurgence of book bans and pernicious social controls in China.
Last year, an economist at Dartmouth led a team of researchers who found that the tone of articles about the pandemic published by major U.S. media outlets was quite negative compared with those in other countries. (The New York Times wrote about the findings.)
We are living through dark times, for sure, but why not feature, up front, more of the brighter pieces about our humanity? Perhaps a teacher who’s excelling in hybrid instruction, a neighborhood whose residents have found a way to support each other or a successful policy idea worth replicating. Positive stories are too often buried in another section (like Styles), or behind a second paywall (like a new recipe).
The Times is a filter through which many of us experience the world — all the more so when we are stuck inside. Please remember that your team has the power — and the great responsibility — to set the tone by which millions of Americans start and end their days.
Emily T. Broas
San Francisco
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