Jeffrey A. Schaler, Ph.D.

US expert: Drug treatment programmes a waste of money

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By Amy Terceira

The Royal Gazette [Bermuda]
Published May 11, 2004
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A leading American psychologist believes drug treatment programmes in prisons should be scrapped because they are a waste of money. Dr. Jeffrey Schaler, a psychologist and professor at American University in Washington, DC said: "We have to ask why a drug treatment programme should be in prison. Prison is a police state so why are there drugs there? If drugs were kept out of prison there would be no need for treatment. Prisoners would be deprived of drugs and that would be the end of it. If (this is) really prison drugs should not be there." And the author of 'Addiction is a Choice' said Bermudian authorities should not pay for drug treatment programmes such as Westgate's ASAP programme, profiled today in Lifestyle, Page 13.

When asked if it was possible to have a clean prison he said: "Probably not because prison guards are corrupt, but this makes it the officials' problem, not the prisoners."

When discussing drug use as a disease he said: "There is a big difference between a real disease such as diabetes and a 'metaphorical' disease such as drug addiction. If you put a person with diabetes in prison and deprived him of insulin he will get sick and die. If you put a person who is labelled a drug addict in prison and deprive him of drugs he will get physically healthier and live."

Dr. Schaler said: "Everyone quits using drugs the same way they make the decision to quit. Treatment not only does not work for drug addiction , it cannot work because there is nothing to treat."

Dr. Schaler said it was important to look at the purpose of prison when talking about treatment. "I believe the purpose of prison should be to protect society from predators we call criminals. We cannot treat them for their criminal behaviour because behaviour is not a disease."

He suggested treatment for addiction which essentially consists of "conversation" and "religious conversion" is as effective in helping people manage their drug use, or quitting entirely, as leaving people to their own devices.

Dr. Schaler, who believes the best form of treatment is a self help group, said he would let prisoners form their own self help groups. He suggested not forcing any treatment but just letting it fall into place on the inmates accord.

Dr. James Buccigross, Westgate psychologist and director of Alternative Substance Abuse Programme (ASAP), believes that in the beginning, drug use is a choice, but then it grabs hold or takes over and one cannot control their drug use.

Dr. Schaler said: "Dr. Buccigross' assertion sounds reasonable on the surface, however, the problem with his assertion is that it is patently false.

"Drugs cannot act on their own. People control their drug use all the time. Everyone abstains from drug use the same way they choose to do so."

Dr. Schaler said: "Dr. Buccigross chose to ignore the enormous body of scientific research in the field of addiction that support the idea that the best predictors and explanations for drug use are mindset, values, and interaction with one's environment. There is no evidence to support the idea that biology, the chemical properties of certain drugs, and the interaction between a person's body and the drugs are accurate predictors and explanations for drug use.

He said: "The idea that drugs "grab hold" of a person is science fiction, not science fact. It is an idea used to support the addiction treatment industry's addiction to money, not to help people who chose to use drugs because they want to." Drug education is taught at Westgate, which Dr. Schaler believes is more political propaganda than accurate information about drugs and drug use.

ASAP teaches the effects of drugs on one's body and the social impact drug use has, said Dr. Buccigross.

Dr. Schaler thinks it is important to differentiate between what drugs do to a person's body and how the drugs get into a person's body. "There is little controversy regarding what drugs do to a person's body. There is nothing new about the fact that drugs have effects on the body." Dr. Schaler used smoking as an example to differentiate between a behaviour and a disease and said the behaviour of smoking is not a disease, but if someone gets cancer that is a disease.

"What many people do is confuse the effect of a substance on the body with how the substance gets into the body," he said. Dr. Schaler believes behaviours are value driven and they are always expressions of a person's values or morality.

He said: "The state has no business dictating how a person should behave, accept when their behaviour harms others directly." Dr. Schaler understands that a controversy emerges in what constitutes harm to others.

"People who claim that viewing drug addiction as a disease is the expression of compassion always seem to end up talking more about the expense smokers and drug users cause society. In that sense they say drug users cause harm to society.

"In the end, the people who claim they are so compassionate in seeking to protect others from themselves are really more interested in imposing their own morality on others and, unfortunately, they are more interested in money than leaving people alone and respecting their individual liberty."

Dr. Schaler is an assistant professor of justice, law, and society at American University's School of Public Affairs in Washington, DC.