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Woman's Opioid Relapse Could Change Drug Laws

Mark Kleiman, Director of the Crime and Justice Program at the NYU Marron Institute of Urban Management, weighed in on laws regarding punishment for drug relapse in a recent article by Vice reporter, Maia Szalavitz. 

Last year, Julie Eldred was ordered to remain drug-free as a condition of probation after being convicted on a stolen property (larceny) charge. This wasn't the first time the 29-year-old's heroin addiction got her into trouble; according to the Boston Globe, Eldred did two months in state prison in 2013 over a previous opioid-related probation violation.

This time, less than a week into court-mandated medication treatment, Eldred relapsed again—and got slapped with ten days in jail after testing positive for the powerful opioid fentanyl. The woman's attorney, Lisa Newman-Polk, argues that it makes sense for a court to mandate someone like her client receive care. But requiring that Eldred essentially be cured within days—and subjecting her more than once to a cell when she failed—was unconstitutional, according to the attorney. 

If Eldred prevails, drug courts, parole, and probation systems in Massachusetts might be prevented from punishing people in similar situations—and a legal precedent set recognizing addiction as a disease that impairs self-control.

Addiction is a condition of impaired choice—not one involving zombies devoid of free will. This makes litigating these issues difficult: drug policy scholar Mark Kleiman, a professor of public service at New York University, told me he "hopes both sides lose." He sees completely ruling out punishment when people with addiction interact with the justice system as being as absurd as relying exclusively on punishment.

To read the full article, click here. 

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