Roosevelt’s ICDP aims to tackle drug policies
The Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy at Roosevelt University shares concerns about current drug policies in Illinois and the dehumanization of drug users within the state. The organization is currently working on overdose prevention, the decriminalization of marijuana and solving the increase of drug abuse in the suburbs of Chicago.
ICDP, a research program headed by Kathleen Kane-Willis, with the help of volunteers and student research assistants, aims to “serve both the general public and populations significantly affected by drug policies through careful analysis of current policies in the areas of housing, employment, education, social services, healthcare and economics,” according to the official mission statement.
“We do public policy research at the intersection of drugs and other social spheres,” Kane-Willis said. “Right now, we have been working on overdose prevention. We were involved in passing the Overdose Prevention Act.”
The Overdose Prevention Act, also known as the Good Samaritan Law, aims to prevent those who overdose from getting arrested for possession of a controlled substance simply from seeking medical attention. If a person has overdosed, this law encourages them to call 911 by eliminating the fear of repercussions.
An issue at the forefront of ICDP’s research, and a hot topic of discussion among legislators around the U.S., is marijuana.
“Right now, we’re in the process of doing research on marijuana misdemeanors,” Kane-Willis said. “So, [we are] looking at the number of arrests and looking at the costs of those arrests across the states and if that money could be used for something else. We are trying to move the low-risk, low-needs out of the criminal justice system.”
Marcia Bazan, a graduate research assistant, has been looking into the same issue.
“It’s a complex issue, and it’s something that definitely needs to be addressed,” Bazan said. “In terms of my personal opinion, I think a lot needs to be done in terms of reducing [marijuana] arrests.”
Another issue ICDP is researching, and has been for over a decade, is the increase in drug, particularly heroin, abuse in the suburbs of Chicago.
“There aren’t as many syringe exchanges or treatment facilities in the suburbs, so people tend to not be able to access the services [they] need, and sometimes we see that active heroin users face more severe consequences when they run into the criminal justice system outside of the city,” Kane-Willis said. “I think that when people turn to drug sales to support their habits the penalties can be pretty severe in the suburbs. They should be the same all over the state, but when you’re dealing with Cook County — which is a very overburdened court system — things can get bogged down.”
In terms of preventative measures, Bazan thinks education is the best solution to the drug problem. While the current U.S. education system does provide preventative classes about drugs, Bazan does not think it’s enough.
“It is surprising how much some people don’t know about the addictiveness of heroin and withdrawal symptoms,” Bazan said. “A lot of the times [the message] is very exaggerated and extreme. Messaging directed towards the audience that is appropriate is key.”
According to Kane-Willis, drug use around the world is more widely accepted than in the U.S., and in some places the selling and using of drugs is completely legal. The U.S. is behind the curve on drug policies, as well as how to treat those who are dealing or using drugs.
“When I think about what is an effective drug policy, [I think] if you’re not having health and human rights at the forefront of that policy, I don’t know if it’s going to be very effective, because what we’ve done in terms of drug use is criminalize something that is a health problem,” Kane-Willis said. “The human rights abuse that goes along with that and the dehumanization and criminalization of people who use drugs is very problematic for our society.”