The relationship between criminal justice systems and people who use
substances is complex, currently and historically. This page provides
information on how the United States criminal justice systems view people
who use substances. Public health and policing data are beginning to impact
the way that legal systems interact with people who use substances, so I
encourage you to continue to seek current information, particularly if you
are working directly with law enforcement or the criminal justice system.
Counselors can play an important role in shaping public policy, as they have
privilege based on their identities as healthcare professionals. As you
learn about laws and substance use, consider what areas exist for you to
advocate for change and how you might engage in such advocacy.
President Trump's Speech on the Opioid Crisis
On October 24th, 2017, President Trump gave a speech on the
national opioid epidemic, during which he provided compelling
statistics regarding the crisis' scope. Trump also proposed solutions
to the problem including:
Providing executive resources and prioritizing the opioid
More oversight for physicians prescribing opioids
An FDA ban on on highly concentrated opioid
Researching less addictive painkillers
A massive advertising campaign to teach people that drugs are
Building a wall with Mexico
Trump feels that the wall will
Using "innovative approaches", such as drug courts, to help people
Confronting the culture of drug abuse by ensuring that every
American knows that purchasing/using drugs causes harm to the person
ingesting the substance, as well as their family and loved ones
Teaching Americans that buying drugs funds criminal
How effective do you think the President's plan for addressing
the opioid crisis will be?
What about Trump's plan might be effective, and
what is less likely to be effective?
What role do you think counselors can play in addressing the
When you progress to the conceptualizing and treatment units in
this course, consider how people can take
action on the individual, community, state, national, and
international levels to reduce the number of people who are addicted
The United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Drug Schedules
The U.S. DEA has classified a range of chemicals, drugs, and substances,
based on accepted medical use and potential for dependence. There are five
potential schedules ranging from no medical use with a high potential for
abuse to medically used substances with a "lower" potential for
Review the definitions for each of the schedules. If
you are interested in how a particular substance is scheduled,
check out the Controlled Substances Alphabetical List. After you
understand the five schedules, respond to the reflection questions
Why We Need to End the War on Drugs
Do you agree with the speaker's assertions
regarding ending the war on drugs?
What are the risks and benefits associated with ending
the war on drugs?
The speaker indicates that drugs should remain illegal
for minors. Do you think it makes sense to treat minors who use
substances as criminals?
This PBS Frontline documentary explores the intersections between
policing, substance use, and public policy. Watch the documentary here, and respond to the reflection questions below.
Chasing Heroin Exploration Questions
If you could advocate for policy change regarding the
way in which people who use substances interact with the legal system,
what policy changes would you advocate for, and how would you
implement your advocacy efforts?
What do you think about the Portland Police's
approach of checking in with heroin users, as opposed to incarcerating
Where is the line between legal, medical use of
prescription medications and misuse or
As a professional counselor, how will you know when
a client's use of prescription pain medication is
How do you think high ranking members of drug cartels
feel about decriminalizing substances such as marijuana, heroin, and
If the drug cartels had political lobbyists, do you
think they would try to convenience politicians decriminalize Schedule
I substances? What do you think would motivate them to lobby
either for or against decriminalization?
Effects of Decriminalization
On November 6th, 2012, Colorado and Washington became the first
states to vote to legalize marijuana.
As of 2016, marijuana is legal in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington,
the District of Columbia, and within the Flandreau Santee Soux Nation.
Many other states and municipalities have decriminalized marijuana for
The effects of decriminalizing substances for recreation and medicinal use
have been widely debated. Spend some
time looking at the following data regarding substance use trends, before
responding to the following reflection questions.
Skim through the latest survey results from the National Survey on Drug
use and Health. The survey can be located by hovering over the
"Survey Results" menu item and then clicking on "Latest
Survey Results". Look at the table of contents, and spend some
time checking out a few sections that you find interesting.
Decriminalization Exploration Questions
What are your personal thoughts regarding
decriminalizing marijuana and other substances?
What data support your beliefs about criminalizing or
What type of counseling client might benefit from
what type of counseling client might benefit from
What reactions did you have while reading through the
How do you think that decriminalizing substances
impacts peoples reported use? Recall that the number of people
who actually use a substance is not the same as the
number of people who report using a substance.
Death for People Who Use Substances?
Read this Al Jazeera report on the President of the
Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte's, ambition to execute three million
people who use substances.
Death for People Who Use Substances Exploration Questions
The above article quotes President Duterte as saying that
killing anyone who uses illegal substances would
the [drug] problem of my country and save the next generation from
How would you respond to President Duterte's claim?