SJC EXPANDS INSANITY DEFENSE TO INCLUDE SUBSTANCE ABUSE
In the United States, there are 2.3 million people being held in correctional facilities across the country. There are people being held in psychiatric hospitals, military prisons, jails in Indian Country, detention facilities for immigrants, local jails, state and federal prisons, and juvenile detention centers. This is especially prevalent due to substance abuse in Boston.
Many of the people in this system are there because of substance use disorders. While there is no way to measure the exact number of people within this system as a result of their addictions, it is estimated that 1 out of 5 people are being held for drug related offenses. According to FBI data, the majority of arrests in the United States are for drug abuse violations.
Why are our jails and prisons filled with people who battle substance use disorders? Let’s look now at the impact addiction has on crime and vice versa.
ADDICTION AND CRIME
The United States Bureau of Justice recently published a Special Report with data and information entitled Drug Use, Dependence, and Abuse Among State Prisoners and Jail Inmates.
The BJS reports that of all the people incarcerated in state prisons and local jails, over 20 percent of them are there for crimes committed in an attempt to get drugs or to get money to purchase drugs. When asked, people who are jailed from property crimes and violent crimes admitted that their most serious offences were drug related. This means that nearly 500,000 prisoners in the United States are incarcerated because they were seeking drugs.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse validates this information through their own data.
According to NIDA, there are three types of offenses in which drug abuse is implicated.
- Possessing or selling drugs
- Committing a crime in a direct effort to obtain drugs (stealing for money to buy drugs, etc)
- Offenses committed because a drug abuser is predisposed to illegal activity through their lifestyle
It has been established that people who use illicit drugs and consume excessive alcohol are more likely to commit crimes. Data also shows that alcohol is the substance of choice among violent offenders.
Violent crime is often a result of chronic substance abuse, and substance abuse has been repeatedly tied to mental health.
PSYCHOLOGICAL IMPACT OF ADDICTION
In opposition to outdated beliefs, addiction has officially been recognized as the disease that it is. The American Psychological Association says that addiction is a “chronic disorder with biological, psychological, social and environmental factors”. They also reason that chronic use of substances can lead to brain changes.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration data shows that almost all drug use can result in mental changes.
Research done at Harvard Medical School Research Recovery Institute shows that chronic substance abuse can cause impairments with the brain’s ability to regulate impulses and cravings despite knowing the negative effects.
But can addiction really make someone insane?
THE “INSANITY DEFENSE”
The Legal Information Institute at Cornell University explains the Insanity Defense as a defense that the accused can plead when in a criminal trial.
The accused admits to committing the crime but asks the court to see that they are not held responsible for the crime because they are mentally ill.
HOW DO WE DEFINE INSANITY IN MASSACHUSETTS DRUG LAWS?
Because we are considering legal ramifications, let us turn to a legal dictionary.
Insanity is defined as a mental illness that is so profound that it results in the following:
- A person is entirely unable to separate reality from fantasy
- A person cannot carry out their affairs due to psychosis
- A person’s mental state leaves them subject to uncontrollable behavior
HOW CAN SUBSTANCE ABUSE OR ALCOHOLISM BE DEEMED INSANITY?
There is much debate as to which comes first, the mental illness or the substance abuse. Regardless, there is no denying that mental illness and substance abuse and alcoholism go hand in hand. Dual diagnosis, for example, requires special consideration in treatment.
While it might be difficult to understand, insanity can be a very real result of drug use. There are many reports of people with substance-induced hallucinations, delusions, and psychosis. This temporary insanity can be traced directly to alcohol, stimulants, opioids, and more.
For those who have a history of long term drug abuse, the psychosis might not be temporary. According to the American Journal of Psychiatry, psychosis can persist long after the drug use has stopped.
MASSACHUSETTS DRUG LAWS: THE HIGH COURT’S RULING
In the state of Massachusetts, the Supreme Judicial Court recently handed down a ruling allowing for the insanity defense to be used by people who are suffering from the psychological effects of chronic drug or alcohol abuse.
One of the Justices reasoned that even if a mental disease was caused by drug use, it is still a mental disease and can be used as a defense for committing a crime.
CAVEATS TO THE “INSANITY DEFENSE”
The ruling does not allow for a carte blanche on claiming insanity, though – certain parameters are in place.
For example, if someone is aware that continuing their abuse of drugs or alcohol will worsen their mental health, they are barred from using the defense.
If someone is found not guilty for commission of a crime due to insanity brought on by substance abuse, they will be treated as a patient rather than a prisoner. Their addiction and mental health will be properly treated, and they will not be sentenced to prison for their crime.
PATIENT-CENTERED TREATMENT FOR SUBSTANCE ABUSE BOSTON
If you or a loved one is living with substance abuse in Boston, you don’t have to fight the battle alone. At Landmark Recovery of Boston, our knowledgeable and caring staff oversee rehabilitation treatment services and programs geared toward you and your recovery.
We look forward to helping you heal, so please contact us today for more information regarding our services. Call our friendly admissions team right now at 888-448-0302.
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