Addiction Affects Jail Overcrowding and Health Insurance

Overcrowded Jails Becoming a Big Problem

There is a problem in Putnam County, West Virginia. The problem they are experiencing is jail overcrowding and a dramatic increase in costs as a result of drug crimes. People who are addicted to drugs are doing almost anything they can in order to get money to buy drugs.

There has been a rise in non-violent crimes such as burglary, shoplifting, larceny, forgery, etc. The rise in these crimes is related to feeding drug and alcohol abuse.

The sad thing is the addicts cannot help it because they are fighting a disease.

Why Are There So Many People in Jail?

Mark Sorsaia, Putnam County’s prosecutor, stated:

“We have the people we’re afraid of, who are going to jail, we have the people we’re mad at, that we should consider whether they need to go to jail and whether that’s in society’s best interest, but there’s a third group. This is the group that’s driving prison overcrowding and skyrocketing jail costs. It is the people we are putting in jail and prison because, if we don’t, they’re going to kill themselves. [1]”

Effects of Drug Problems

There is an addiction pandemic of sorts. There has been a steady rise in the number of drug-related offenses in the county and across the state [1]. This problem is multifaceted because not only are addicts committing these crimes they are also killing themselves.

There is a real strain being placed on the jail and court systems and the related costs. In addition to the rise in legal costs, there is an immense strain being placed on the healthcare systems.

Overcrowding a Problem Throughout the US

These burdens are not only being felt in West Virginia, they are affecting many other communities across the US as well. Disappointingly, it does not appear that these problems are going to subside anytime soon.

There are fears that there will be an influx of addicts filing health insurance claims to seek treatment. This concern is in related to the new DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition) recently released which now lists addiction as a disease like cancer or diabetes.

With addiction now accepted as a disease, this creates a new shift in thinking and new approaches to treatment.

Getting Addiction Treatment, not Jail

This may be a tremendous opportunity for those struggling with drug and alcohol abuse and cannot afford to pay for treatment. They should no longer have to reach the point of near death before the health insurance will help pay for rehab.

However, there are some serious concerns that arise from the DSM-5 change. This may likely create a tremendous burden on the internal workings of the healthcare system.

Here is how it’s happening:

    1. Health insurance companies are still denying legitimate claims to those seeking drug or alcohol treatment, which is in direct opposition to the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act with requires insurances companies to treat mental health and substance use disorder claims the same as any other medical claim.


  1. These denials create a financial burden on treatment centers that are treating patients that can only pay via insurance. In addition to the financial stains, this potential rise in needed treatment may also create a shortfall in treatment facilities that accept health insurance and government assistance.

Addiction is no longer a “choice”. It is a disease that is consistently misunderstood because it is not born out of weak character or a lack of morality [2]. Addiction is often developed because someone is trying to self-medicate unbearable emotional or physical pain.

Hope for The Future

A possible answer to the jail overcrowding and the healthcare strains is more education. This is the direction the US government is taking. Gil Kerlikowske, Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, has chosen to abolish the term “war on drugs” and implement a new battle cry of “prevention and treatment.”

Hopefully, this new “prevention and treatment” approach will be more successful than the “war on drugs.”