According to data published in November, 2021 by the CDC, during the 12-month period ending in April of 2021, there were 100,306 drug overdose deaths in the United States. That is roughly three times the number killed in automobile accidents over the same time period. For decades the government's solution was a heavy-handed “war on drugs” in which complete eradication was the goal and the methods including criminal punishment for all chains of the supply as the end user.
In the half-century since President Nixon declared the U.S. to be at war on drugs, it slowly came to be seen by many as an ineffective, scorched earth policy which fell most heavily on the most vulnerable - the addicts who were shoved into a revolving door of freedom and incarceration. Once in a revolving door in and out of prison, it can be incredibly difficult for individuals to develop the life skills needed to live in today's rapidly-changing world. Perhaps just as disturbing are the many cases I have been involved with in which the drug use could not possibly be blamed on “poor decisions” but chronic pain and dependency on legal controlled substances prescribed by a doctor which, once that legal supply ran out, was fed by turning to illegal opiates on the street. Street drugs are often mixed, or “laced,” with fentanyl or other synthetic substances which can be hundreds or even thousands of times more potent than the controlled substance to which it is analogous, and even small doses can cause cardiac arrest and sudden death.
For end users caught facing charges criminal charges for possession of a controlled substance, there are other options besides incarceration. Most counties in Missouri, including those of St. Louis and Jefferson, operate drug courts which function as a sort of parallel, alternative sentencing mechanism. These drug courts, if one is qualified and there is space in the program (which there generally is), will include some combination of intensive treatment, therapy, employment and education assistance, as well as a support group. In some instances, a successful completion of drug court can mean a complete dismissal of the underlying felony drug charge. In an age where a felony conviction is a scarlet letter, this can amount of a second lease on life.