New Study: "Hallucinogen Use Predicts Reduced Recidivism Among..."

By David Nickles on Sunday, 16 February 2014, hits: 14207


A new study found that hallucinogen use predicted a reduced likelihood of noncompliance with legal requirements among individuals in the criminal justice system in the Southeastern United States. While this study adds to the increasing body of scientific evidence regarding the merits of psychedelic compounds, it fails to acknowledge that the number one cause of incarceration for substance use is the treatment of substance use as a criminal issue, rather than a public health issue.



     The abstract of the 2014 paper, entitled, "Hallucinogen Use Predicts Reduced Recidivism Among Substance-Involved Offenders," reads:

Hallucinogen-based interventions may benefit substance use populations, but contemporary data informing the impact of hallucinogens on addictive behavior are scarce. Given that many individuals in the criminal justice system engage in problematic patterns of substance use, hallucinogen treatments also may benefit criminal justice populations. However, the relationship between hallucinogen use and criminal recidivism is unknown. In this longitudinal study, we examined the relationship between naturalistic hallucinogen use and recidivism among individuals under community corrections supervision with a history of substance involvement (n=25,622). We found that hallucinogen use predicted a reduced likelihood of supervision failure (e.g. noncompliance with legal requirements including alcohol and other drug use) while controlling for an array of potential confounding factors (odds ratio (OR)=0.60 (0.46, 0.79)). Our results suggest that hallucinogens may promote alcohol and other drug abstinence and prosocial behavior in a population with high rates of recidivism. [Full Text]


Acknowledging the War on Drugs as a War on [Some People Who Use Certain] Drugs

     While the researchers state that their results "show that hallucinogen use is prospectively associated with a reduced likelihood of recidivism in a large sample of individuals under community corrections supervision with a history of drug involvement," they fail to engage with any broader social contexts or definitions of the question they are asking. In the context of the American criminal justice system, "Recidivism is measured by criminal acts that resulted in the rearrest, reconviction, or return to prison with or without a new sentence during a three-year period following the prisoner's release." [1] Therefore, when considering rates of recidivism, vis a vis substance use, there are two obvious paths to reduce or eliminate recidivism: 1) Engage in therapies and treatments to discourage the use of substances that have been criminalized, or 2) Decriminalize substances and treat substance abuse (not use) as a public health issue, rather than a criminal one.

     The officially titled "War on Drugs" has been mired in racist and classist policies since its inception. "Although rates of drug use and selling are comparable across racial lines, people of color are far more likely to be stopped, searched, arrested, prosecuted, convicted and incarcerated for drug law violations than are whites. Higher arrest and incarceration rates for African Americans and Latinos are not reflective of increased prevalence of drug use or sales in these communities, but rather of a law enforcement focus on urban areas, on lower-income communities and on communities of color as well as inequitable treatment by the criminal justice system...[Many] believe the mass criminalization of people of color, particularly young African American men, is as profound a system of racial control as the Jim Crow laws were in this country until the mid-1960s." [2]

     Additionally, with the rise in both drug-related incarceration and for-profit prison labor, this war has led to the de facto enslavement of increasing numbers of non-violent drug offenders, for the purpose of generating wealth for shareholders of the prison-industrial complex. [3] Given that the socio-political context of the "War on Drugs" is one of control, domination, and economic exploitation of groups of people that the state finds undesirable, the question should not be, "Do psychedelics promote recidivism amongst substance-involved offenders," but rather, "Do psychedelics facilitate the cessation of addictive behaviors," without the presupposition that substance use or abuse should lead to incarceration or other criminal penalties. That is to say, the recidivism of formerly incarcerated users of psychoactive substances is a meaningless measure, given the arbitrary and discriminatory nature of the drug war. The potential role of psychedelics in addiction cessation, however, divorced from the socioeconomics of the prison-industrial complex, should be the underlying takeaway from this study.

     This is not to say that the UAB-Hopkins study is without merit, far from it. The purpose of highlighting this cultural omission--which is understandable, given this paper's statistical focus within the current sociopolitical climate--is to call into question the manner in which narratives about psychedelics are framed within the context of almost 50 years of a War on [Some People Who Use Certain] Drugs. Does this study present evidence that psychedelics may help individuals curb their use and abuse of potentially addictive substances and behaviors? Certainly! However, the framing of psychedelics as "reducing the recidivism of substance-involved offenders," while evidenced by the study in question, diverts from the larger social injustice of criminalizing substances and enforcing inhumane punishments on those who interact with them.

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