Treating drug abuse and addiction in the criminal justice system: improving public health and safety

JAMA. 2009 Jan 14;301(2):183-90. doi: 10.1001/jama.2008.976.


Despite increasing evidence that addiction is a treatable disease of the brain, most individuals do not receive treatment. Involvement in the criminal justice system often results from illegal drug-seeking behavior and participation in illegal activities that reflect, in part, disrupted behavior ensuing from brain changes triggered by repeated drug use. Treating drug-involved offenders provides a unique opportunity to decrease substance abuse and reduce associated criminal behavior. Emerging neuroscience has the potential to transform traditional sanction-oriented public safety approaches by providing new therapeutic strategies against addiction that could be used in the criminal justice system. We summarize relevant neuroscientific findings and evidence-based principles of addiction treatment that, if implemented in the criminal justice system, could help improve public heath and reduce criminal behavior.

MeSH terms

  • Brain / physiology
  • Crime
  • Health Services Accessibility
  • Humans
  • Mental Health Services
  • Prisons* / statistics & numerical data
  • Public Health
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / therapy*
  • United States / epidemiology