Why the Decriminalization of Drug Use Is the Right Approach


JANUARY 20, 2020

Edited by Editorial Team

Editorial Team

SpringBoard Recovery was born from the passion and personal experience of its founders. We understand the real-world challenges of early recovery and are here to help and we are passionate about helping our clients lead balanced, healthy, and fulfilling lives.


Why the Decriminalization of Drug Use Is the Right Approach

The decriminalization of drug use is an issue that continues to be passionately debated in Arizona and other states around the country. Supporters of drug decriminalization point to the powerful evidence for how this approach can support recovery and long-term healing. In contrast, incarceration, fines, and a permanent criminal record often contribute to trapping people in a life of unhealthy drug use and poor health.

When people struggle with drug use, they often deal with a variety of physical and psychological issues. For example, the Arizona Department of Health Services has recorded close to 4,000 suspected opioid-related deaths since June 2017. There were also over 32,500 opioid-related overdoses during the same time period. People who develop a drug addiction or who use drugs unsafely may find it difficult to keep their jobs, care for their families, and stay in school.

On top of all of these challenges, people who use drugs often face criminal penalties. These penalties are yet another destructive burden, They can badly damage individual lives, harm families, and impede a successful recovery.


Getting and staying sober is very challenging, but with the right support network and tools, it's completely attainable.

Doesn’t Criminalization Deter Drug Use?

One long-standing misconception is that harsh criminal penalties will prevent reoffending or keep people from using drugs. However, decades of evidence call this view into question.

The Pew Charitable Trusts conducted a review and found that imprisonment rates around the U.S. bear no relationship to rates of drug use, arrests, and overdose deaths. In many cases, long sentences get meted out to low-level offenders. They may not have committed any violent acts; their crimes may have involved possession or a quick sale for a small amount of a substance.

Prison can exert a deeply negative psychological effect on people. This makes it harder for them to rebuild their lives once they’re out. Their criminal record also makes it more difficult for them to find work and a place to live. As a familiar way of coping with stress, they may turn to drugs again.

What Does the Decriminalization of Drug Use Look Like?

When drugs are decriminalized, people don’t face imprisonment or other criminal penalties for various drug-related activities, including use, possession, and low-level selling. They may still go to prison for participating in large-scale drug operations or committing violence. However, they’re not arrested for simply using an illegal drug or having some of it in their home.

With the decriminalization of drug use, people are more likely to receive referrals for drug treatment and vital information about harm reduction and improved health. They’re also more likely to seek treatment on their own. They don’t fear arrest, and the drug use itself isn’t stigmatized as a criminal activity. People aren’t ripped away from their families and jobs, shamed in front of the world, and delivered to a brutal prison system.

What Does Portugal Reveal About Drug Decriminalization?

Close to two decades ago, Portugal enacted a policy of decriminalizing drug use. These results proved beneficial for the country.

The benefits included significantly fewer overdose deaths. Also, a greater number of people were voluntarily enrolling in treatment programs for addiction and unhealthy drug use. The rates of unhealthy use also fell.

Various drugs continued to be classified as illegal. However, the police response to drug possession changed. Instead of arresting people, the police started connecting them to professionals offering treatment and other services that would help with recovery and rehabilitation.

Portugal’s approach to illegal drug use highlights the way decriminalization can genuinely reduce suffering. It can also improve long-term outcomes for health, safety, and well-being. It also highlights how the availability of high-quality treatment programs is crucial for the success of decriminalization.

The Importance of Seeking Treatment

Although drug possession in the U.S. is still met with criminal penalties in many cases, don’t be afraid to seek treatment from a reputable rehabilitation program.

The high-quality program at SpringBoard Recovery is run by licensed professionals who maintain confidentiality about your drug use and related health issues. We will provide you with a safe space to deal with physical and psychological struggles. Throughout the program, you’ll also gain a deeper understanding of yourself and the causes of your drug use. You’ll develop a set of strategies to prevent relapse, enhance your psychological and spiritual strength, and create a life full of greater joy, purpose, and health.

Don’t hesitate to contact SpringBoard Recovery for more information. We offer a personalized approach to drug-related treatment and provide you with powerful, compassionate support.


  1. National Library of Medicine: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29746420/
  2. Drug Policy Alliance: https://drugpolicy.org/resource/its-time-us-decriminalize-drug-use-and-possession
  3. Arizona Department of Health Services: https://www.azdhs.gov/prevention/womens-childrens-health/injury-prevention/opioid-prevention/index.php
  4. WebMD: https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/addiction/drug-abuse-addiction#1
  5. Human Rights Watch: https://www.hrw.org/report/2016/10/12/every-25-seconds/human-toll-criminalizing-drug-use-united-states
  6. PEW: https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/issue-briefs/2018/03/more-imprisonment-does-not-reduce-state-drug-problems
  7. Drug Policy Alliance: https://drugpolicy.org/issues/drug-decriminalization
  8. Filter: https://filtermag.org/portugal-decriminalization-drug-use-explained/
  9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/epidemic/index.html
  10. TIME: https://time.com/longform/portugal-drug-use-decriminalization/

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JANUARY 20, 2020

Robert Castan is a member of the Executive Leadership Team at SpringBoard Recovery. Robert started his professional career as a house manager and has become an industry leader and trusted voice in the treatment world. He brings extensive knowledge of organizational growth, industry-leading outcomes, and comprehensive marketing to SpringBoard Recovery. Robert has been walking his own path of recovery for over 10 years. This path has truly driven his ambition to help make treatment available to others who are struggling with addiction. Robert finds great joy in traveling and keeping physically active, with an emphasis on biking. Robert resides in Arizona with his husband and two four-legged children.   The U.S. Alcohol Crisis, Still Deadlier Than the Opioid Epidemic   Zombies and Other Future Threats to the Health of American Youth Dire Mental Health: A Catalyst for Post-Pandemic Drug Addiction The Benefits of Rehab Center Staff Working Their Own Recovery Opinion: The Opioid Crisis + COVID-19 = The Perfect Storm Robert Castan on Successful Addiction Treatment and Entrepreneurship Castan: The road less traveled of addiction & recovery in Scottsdale Opioids & COVID Driving Phoenix’s Rising Fatal Drug Overdoses Opinion: The Opioid Crisis + COVID-19 = The Perfect Storm Successful Addiction Treatment Programs & Entrepreneurship

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