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Long-Term Cocaine and Meth Users May Be Unable to Distinguish Right from Wrong

US News posted an interesting article earlier this month in which they reported that those who take cocaine or methamphetamines regularly may be unable to properly distinguish right from wrong. This is because the parts of the brain responsible for understanding morals and emotions become particularly damaged from the drugs.

This decision was reached after researchers scanned the brains of over 200 inmates in New Mexico and Wisconsin, with over 130 of those inmates being addicted to these two drugs, to determine how they responded to situations that involved moral reasoning.

What remains to be seen, however, and what may be more difficult or even impossible to determine is whether or not those under the influence are more interested in crime, or whether an interest in crime fuels an interest for drugs (i.e. which factor came first?)/

This could be a very important discovery, if a possible one to make, considering that drug-related offenses make up the majority of the prison population, as per a recent study conducted by the Federal Bureau of Prisons. The numbers truly are staggering, with 46.3 percent of the overall prison population - over 85,000 inmates - being incarcerated due to drug-related offenses.

And, to add to that, it has been found that alcohol and other drugs contributed to over 75 percent of violent crimes, nearly 85 percent of property crimes, and 77 percent of public order, immigration or weapons offenses, and probation and parole violations.

And while the number of cases of drug addiction or abuse in the prison system are overwhelming, only a fraction of those cases actually receive treatment while in prison. The rest are either forced to go through withdrawals or get drugs on the prison black market.

Chair and President of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, Joseph Califano, Jr., who served as the health secretary for the United States from 1977 to 1979, has noted that despite our nation’s recognition of this issue, nothing is being done to make things any better. If anything, things only look like they’re getting worse, with the U.S. having “less than five percent of the world’s population” who take “two-thirds of the world’s illegal drugs.” The U.S. also “incarcerate[s] almost a quarter of the world’s prisoners,” and “more than eight of 10 of whom have some [kind of] substance involvement.”

Now here’s something infuriating. Inmates may not be receiving the help that they need to fight their addictions due to budget constraints or criticisms that the treatments may not stick, yet actually treating these inmates can be more beneficial than we may realize. For instance, say it was common practice for prisons to treat every inmate who comes in with a drug abuse or addiction problem. And say only 10 percent of those treated actually stay sober, find jobs, and stay away from crime. For each inmate of those 10 percent - a sliver of a fraction of the overall prison population incarcerated for drug-related offenses, the country would save over $90,000 per year.
Sure, the treatments wouldn’t work for everyone. But those numbers certainly provide enough of a reason to try.