Rantz: Seattle Council plans to bribe meth addicts in latest inevitable failure
Meth overdoses are surging in Seattle and King County. It’s too bad we don’t have serious leaders willing to tackle the problem. Instead, they think bribing addicts with gift cards will have them turn their lives around.
Fatal meth ODs jumped from 96 in 2016 to 318 this year thus far, according to a recent Seattle City Council-ordered audit. It noted the homeless community is particularly susceptible to meth addiction. And many of them, the audit confirms, commit violent crimes.
Declaring there is an “unmet and urgent need for methamphetamine treatment,” councilmembers Andrew Lewis and Lisa Herbold propose a “contingency management” strategy. It’s a convoluted way to say they will bribe people into sobriety. And while their intentions are good, this program is a joke.
The absurd plan
Under the proposal, addicts join a 12-week program where they meet with a clinician or social worker twice a week. At the meetings, the addict will provide a urine sample to test for recent drug use. If the drug test is negative, the addict is immediately offered a gift card.
For each subsequent negative test, the gift card will increase. If the test is positive or an appointment is missed, the addict’s reward will revert back to the lowest level and rebuild. The average reward amount is $300 under this approach.
The audit report claims contingency management has “strong research evidence” that it works. But paragraphs later, it highlights what the data actually says.
Those who need the most help, such as years-long meth addicts driven homeless by the disease, do not see positive outcomes. And those who see positive outcomes only see that success lasts about six months, according to research.
The reality of addiction
Meth addiction is a disease, not something treated with a $300 gift card to Best Buy. To think this approach would work on homeless addicts, in particular, shows a terrifying lack of knowledge about the crisis.
Bribing addicts is endorsed because it’s considered innovative or bold simply due to no one else trying it. But if treating addiction was as easy as giving people money, we’d already see money pouring into these programs.
Investing in or paying for someone to attend a medical detox facility deserves our attention. Not only does it treat the addiction, it helps mitigate withdrawal effects, which include psychosis. There’s no gift card that can mitigate the symptoms of withdrawal. And after one is fully detoxed, a behavioral therapy program can best handle the challenges facing recovering meth addicts, in particular.
Contingency management can be a part of behavioral therapy, post-detox, if the city uses private dollars to help entice recovering addicts to remain sober. But Motivational Incentives for Enhanced Drug Abuse Recovery (MIEDAR) is more cost effective.
The MIEDAR approach is also incentive-based. But rather than a pay-per-clean-urine-test system, you raffle off prizes to sober participants. Studies suggest it’s at least as effective as contingency management. And it’s considerably cheaper.
You need more than a drug treatment program
The city also can’t ignore its own policies that create meth addicts.
City councilmembers, the mayor, and Democrats statewide endorse drug legalization. They just call it decriminalizing. They argue that drug laws “disproportionately impact the BIPOC community,” and by legalizing drugs, they help “dismantle systems of oppression” by removing law enforcement. In doing so, Democrats create more addicts.
When you legalize drugs, dealers flood the area with product to sell. And when Democrat policy is to keep the border open, Mexican drug cartels take advantage. This isn’t surprising. Why did meth and fentanyl ODs increase so dramatically since 2016? Because the region ended drug law enforcement, before legalizing it entirely.
The city could implement a number of plans to treat addiction tomorrow if it wanted. But for every success story, another person will become an addict because of the very drug-permissive environment the city created. You can’t implement programs without cracking down on legalization, if you truly want success.
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