Special Communication
January 14, 2009

Treating Drug Abuse and Addiction in the Criminal Justice SystemImproving Public Health and Safety

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliations: Services Research Branch, National Institute on Drug Abuse (Drs Chandler and Fletcher); and National Institute on Drug Abuse (Dr Volkow), Bethesda, Maryland.

JAMA. 2009;301(2):183-190. 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.