Unfortunately, addiction is still widely regarded as a moral failing rather than a disease, which is perhaps why our nation's drug laws focus on incarceration and punishment rather than treatment. The recent drug crimes case involving a Salt Lake City former judge suggests that addiction can quickly derail the lives of even the most moral and upright individuals.
In August, the 46-year-old judge pleaded guilty to one count of drug possession with intent to distribute. Investigators allegedly tracked the woman as she picked up packages containing drugs from a post office box in Salt Lake City.
The former judge has explained that she is addicted to the prescription painkiller Oxycodone; which she first began taking after a 1998 car accident. Some of the packages apparently contained Oxycodone pills while others contained different drugs that she allegedly traded for Oxycodone.
This month, she was sentenced to 90 days in jail followed by three years of probation. Under the terms of her probation, the woman has agreed to continue drug treatment and testing, among other things.
Many outside observers have been critical of the sentence given to the former judge; believing it to be too light. But let's examine the facts. The woman has been a faithful public servant for years. And prior to her recent conviction, she had an absolutely spotless criminal record. She is also raising two young children as a single mother; including a child with special needs.
According to her attorney, the woman admitted to herself that she had an addiction problem before being arrested. She had even been trying to ween herself off of Oxycodone.
It is fairly plain to see that this former judge's drug abuse was not the result of growing up in a bad neighborhood, falling in with the wrong crowd or simply lacking moral character. Even her decision to take drugs in the first place was motivated by a legitimate need to manage pain after an accident.
Addiction is a disease, but it often causes symptoms that include criminal and immoral behaviors. How much more successful would we be as a society if we treated the underlying disease rather than simply punishing the symptoms?
Source: Salt Lake Tribune, "Former Utah judge sentenced to 90 days in jail on drug case," Marissa Lang, Nov. 19, 2013