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If ideas of addiction are wrong, is drug crime punishment, too?

Opioid addiction is the current drug cause célèbre. In Arkansas in particular, the problem is considered so significant that experts are declaring we are in the midst of an epidemic.

What makes addiction to opioids so worrisome is that in most cases they are drugs that have been prescribed by doctors. They are very good for their intended use, but sadly, addiction is claiming lives, increasing cases of disability, and raising costs of medical care and law enforcement.

In the past, the typical reaction to such threats has been to pass laws that crack down on the users, as if confronting addicted individuals with drug charges and the possibility of imprisonment is somehow going to make a difference. In this instance, though, a University of Arkansas Medical Sciences professor is urging state lawmakers to do something else.

He suggests putting emphasis on getting people treatment and changing laws to make it possible for doctors to know when a patient is on opioid medications, and thus possibly addicted. He says action is needed right now, not five years down the road.

As progressive as those suggestions seem to be, there is someone who might argue it's still the wrong response. British author Johann Hari has written a book called "Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs."

After years of research and interviews about the issue, Hari is of the opinion that a major driver of addictions is human disconnection. He proposes that that while technology today makes us feel we're more connected than ever, the reality is that we're more alone than ever. He points to a study showing that the number of people that average persons in America feel they can call on in crisis is falling, and has been since the 1950s.

Hari says the conclusion he's come to is that the current response to the drug problem, of waging war with laws, hinges on breaking, or threatening to break, human connections. He says some experts propose that to ensure real recovery for individuals, it's going to require promoting connections. He says that will require an intervention that restores values of face-to-face connectedness throughout the whole society.

It's an intriguing concept when you see the research behind it.

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