Jail Doesn't Help Addicts. Let's Stop Sending Them There.

Misti Barrickman has scoliosis. Since she was a teenager, it's been debilitating. It hurt to lie down. It hurt to stand up.

She started taking Oxycontin to help with the pain and became addicted. She came to Seattle to find large quantities of the drug. Unable to find it and feeling increasingly desperate, Misti tried what was readily available: heroin. For the next seven years, she struggled with addiction. She lived between a tent and a jail cell, racking up charges for possession and prostitution.

Her story is all too common.

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Almost 30,000 people were arrested for drugs in New York in 2012. Over 117,000 people were arrested for drugs in California in the same year. Nearly 10,700 people were arrested for drugs in Washington that year.

Some of these people, like Misti, have been arrested multiple times – their addictions haven't been helped by stint after stint behind bars. Too often, the cycle just keeps repeating itself.

Seattle is trying something different.

Since 2012, the city's Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program (LEAD) cuts out the criminal justice middleman. Instead of jailing people struggling with addiction, officers connect people directly with the treatment and services that can actually help them get sober.

Instead of wasting time and money with a court hearing and saddling people with a criminal record before they can access treatment and services, LEAD doesn't waste time. And unlike drug courts, LEAD participants who relapse are not threatened with jail time and expulsion from the program.

For the people we interviewed, the program is working. Misti's been sober now for two years. She no longer lives in a tent, and her pain is under control. She is in school. The latest video in our "OverCriminalized" series – produced in partnership with Brave New Films and The Nation – tells Misti's story and the story of others whose lives have improved after police took them to services, not to jail.

For decades, this country has been waging a failed war on drugs. Drug use hasn't gone down. Drugs are just as available as they used to be. Instead of solving our drug problem, we've become a society that seemingly disregards millions of lives – particularly the lives of black and brown people.

Although the majority of people who use and deliver drugs in Seattle are white, the black drug arrest rate was 13 times higher than the white drug arrest rate in 2006. Aggressive over-policing has ravaged communities. Large swaths of the population have been locked up. And billions of dollars have been wasted that could have been much better spent on interventions that could have actually changed the course of people's lives.

Drug addiction has become one of the many social problems that we've relegated to the criminal justice system. But as with homelessness and mental illness, handcuffs and jail cells haven't made things better and have cost much more than the treatment and services that can. It doesn't have to be this way. America can safely reduce our reliance on incarceration. Several states have reduced their prison populations while crime rates have dropped.

Addiction should not be a crime.

"OverCriminalized," a new series produced Brave New Films in partnership with the ACLU and The Nation, profiles three promising and less expensive interventions that may actually change the course of people's lives. It's time to roll back mass criminalization and focus on what works.

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Chris Bagnato

I'm not anonymous! If you wish to remove my name feel free to do so but, my name is Chris Bagnato. I am addicted to Morphine. I am physically addicted, not emotionally connected or addicted and there is a HUGE difference. If Misti was in pain and the doctors gave her Oxycontin, why didn't they continue the treatment? It strikes me as being the type of story where she was expected to recover after surgery, she didn't, fully, and they simply took her off the strong pain reliever thinking she was the cookie-cutter, typical, case that would! She probably did not tell them how badly she still needed the medication! Maybe she was afraid or embarrassed or knew in her heart she didn't really need them for pain...she NEEDED them for something else! I have been on Morphine for 12 years or more and on a high daily dosage + breakthrough medications which I take PRN as well should I require them. My physicians prescribe this every month without fail. The story of a poor unsuspecting addicted person is no different than that of any other drug addict I've ever known. If Misti decided to go on with her addiction it's no one's fault but her own! That sounds harsh but it really isn't. If Misti needs her Oxy's she will lie, cheat, steal and almost kill to get them She doesn't care who she hurts or who she may deprive of that medication. It's because of Misti and all those like her that I have to put up with the types of laws that inconvenience me every month, keep me in short supply and keep me having to put up with pharmacies that no longer want to carry narcotics for fear of being held up or stolen from internally! If the Misti's of the world break the law, they need to pay the piper for that...not for the addiction...but for the crimes they perpetrate upon society. Misti could have checked into detox and rehab 100 times but she refused to do that. If there comes a time when my doctors refuse my Morphine that is the first thing I will do. Detox, go to rehab and try to find another way to cope with my pain. I won't do that now because pain meds are funny things, I am told. Should I opt to experiment and disconti nue my own treatment...and then have to go back on Narcotics because of the pain...the drugs may not work again as well as they once did and I am unwilling to take that risk! I am taking what works for me and I would be very very foolish to change it.


Perhaps you are unaware that oxys are a short acting drug. As a short acting drug wears off your pain comes back. You eventually develop a tolerance and your meds wear off before your next scheduled dose... Doctors do NOT like to hear this! You, however, are on a longer acting drug. I have found methadone to be an excellent alternative. It relieves my pain for almost 24 hours. I take it 1 time a day. It does not have any euphoria. It is actually a blocker, so if you do try and take an opiod drug you will not very easily feel any euphoria. I was on oxys and morphine. Methadone is so much better for pain. Have you tried to control your pain with oxys alone for an extended period of time?? Regardless, methadone is much better for long term pain one reason being it has no long term consequences and no euphoria that could be tempting anyone, except Jesus, but I'm thinking that is not who you are given your judgement on something you do not understand for starters... Be well.


I forgot to ask..... What would you do (as you stated this girl would lie steal for her meds) if you could not get your morphine? Not one day, as morphine stays in your system longer than oxys, but let's give you 3 days. Let's also say you have kids to get up for school, a job you must function at, dinner to come home and cook, children to engage that need you, that you love with every fiber of your being and tears you up when you cannot be the parent they need. Remember, we are speaking of a woman in pain to begin with, the reason she was first prescribed oxys. A woman that found a doctor to help relieve her pain. A doctor that didn't follow through being he knew she would develop a tolerance and need more. HE created the problem you so vehemently despise.


I completely agree with you. I took opiods for years for myofascial pain syndrome so severe that I had to love on SSDI and couldn't work, though I tried many times to go back. I can't deny that I was tempted more than once to abuse medication, as I have severe anxiety disorder and PTSD, and it would've felt great to escape. But I knew that would lead to addiction and short me on my month's supply of meds, which might have sent me into the street looking for some, too. Some doctors are impossible to deal with when it comes to this. First you must find one you trust and who is willing to ensure you are properly medicated but not abusing, so that if you find a drug like oxy, which I had to tell my doctor was starting to cause me cravings, he will be willing to work with you to find the right drug. It's ultimately about personal responsibility, but doctors are also to blame for either refusing to treat pain with opiods at all or over prescribing on the other end. I do agree that jail is counterproductive to the problem. In sum, rehab for addiction and proper pain management is the reform our society needs.

Ernest Stauffer...

I really disagree with you on how you feel about the Misti's of the world. I was a journeyman lineman since I was 18yrs. old, when I was 25 I fell 60ft. breaking a large number of bones in my body, the doctors put me on Oxycontin and after a year I was severely addicted, I made well over 6 figures close to 7 figures a year, as I owned my own utility construction company. I got hooked on heroin and after 6 years I lost everything my company, wife, and kids I tried so many times to end my life. I hated everything, and at the time did not care how I got my fix. I became homeless just think I owned houses, boats, and cars. Being high made me feel indestructible almost like I didn't exist at all, nothing could hurt me while I was high. Today I am starting over, with nothing but a dream really, a dream that I can stay sober and happy. A life where I can help someone, a day where I can play with one of my kids. I love the Mistis of the world, they do not deserve to be punished by the court system, they need help. Who knows Chris if you ever had to go through any withdraws maybe you would change your attitude towards this God awful disease. Everyone is just an accident away from becoming an addict.I feel that everyone should be rehabilitated before incarcerated.


Why don't you stop taking your meds then report back.

David R.

It sounds like you too are very sick Chris I will pray for you.


My sister has been on many pain pills for over 20 years! She’s still in pain, so sad, I’m praying


I glad the treatment worked for Misti. The reason most of them get jail instead of treatment is that, a lot of trouble makers just want a way out without any punishment for what they did.

wendy laplant

Oh how I wish Minneapolis and surrounding areas would give this a try! Living in small rural town midwest. HUGE PROBLEM! Both my sons addicted!


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