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The Science of Addiction & Collateral Consequences

Updated: Sep 10, 2020

By Addiction Policy Forum

On December 2, 2014, Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Rob Portman (R-OH), and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) hosted the third event in the Congressional Addiction Forum series; an ongoing set of bipartisan briefings to help identify a strategy to advance addiction treatment and recovery nationwide and develop an agenda for the 114th Congress. We were joined by nationally-recognized researchers, practitioners, policymakers and Members of Congress to advance treatment and recovery.

The Senators made clear the seriousness of this challenge, and shared stories about their experience with families impacted by addiction overdoses: “Individuals who have been convicted of drug crimes, have served their sentences, and have completed the path to recovery too often face additional penalties long after their release. From barriers to affordable housing and education, to limitations on employment options, these ‘collateral consequences’ can linger years after an individual has committed an offense,” Senator Whitehouse said. “As a whole, the collateral consequences of drug convictions impose costs not only on those directly affected, but on society as a whole. If education and employment are the best predictors of successful re-entry into society, we all pay the price of limiting their accessibility.“

As a former prosecutor, I’ve seen firsthand the devastating consequences of drug addiction,” Senator Klobuchar said. “From undermining education and employment to tearing apart families, addiction has far-reaching impacts that hurt communities across the country. We need to do everything we can to fight this growing epidemic, and I’ll continue pushing efforts to expand the use of proven tools in the fight against addiction.”

“Just last week, I met with a New Hampshire family who tragically lost their 20-year-old daughter to a heroin overdose. Too many families in New Hampshire and across the country are finding themselves in the same place as this family,” said Senator Ayotte. “Today’s bipartisan forum was an important opportunity to share insights and expertise as we look for the most effective ways to help our communities fight addiction and help individuals in recovery. We cannot arrest our way out of this problem – we need to take a multi-faceted approach that includes law enforcement, prevention, treatment, and education.”

“This issue must be addressed,” said Senator Portman. “The bottom line is that we have gotten a lot of good information today, and we thank you for that.”


Doctor Nora Volkow MD, research psychiatrist and scientist, Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), discusses what goes in in the human brain when an individual is addicted to drugs.


“We have been wrong in our thinking about addiction,” he says. “Addiction is best considered an acquired chronic illness, like diabetes. Science has created effective prevention, early intervention and treatment, and these can and should be brought to scale in schools, justice, and medical settings.”

Thomas McLellan, Ph.D., chair of the board and Co-Founder, Treatment Research Institute.


Bill Williams and Margot Head talk about losing their son to a heroin overdose. US Senate Forum on Addiction, December 2, 2014 The forum, which featured two panels, opened with remarks from Michael Botticelli, Acting Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, who said, “We need to fundamentally change perceptions and policies around people in recovery.”

The first panel included Dr. Nora Volkow, Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse and Dr. A. Thomas McLellan, Chair of the Board and Co-Founder, Treatment Research Institute and was moderated by Peter Palanca, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Office of TASC, Illinois. Dr. Volkow said “The good news is that drug abuse can be treated. The brain is resilient. It can recover.” Dr. McLellan continued: “We have been wrong in our thinking about addiction and it has hurt us. Addiction is a brain disease and we should treat it the same way as other chronic diseases like diabetes… Recovery is now an expectable result of treatment and continuous monitoring.”

The second forum included of Amy Solomon, Senior Advisor to the Assistant Attorney General, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice, Gary Mohr, Director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections, Bill Williams and Margot Head of New York, Danielle Tarino, Public Health Advisor with the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration, and Linda Hurley, MA Chief Operating Officer of CODAC, Inc., of Rhode Island. It was moderated by Carol McDaid of Faces and Voices of Recovery, who said, “Enough is enough. We’ve discussed this enough. We need action [on the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act].” Solomon said, “I am both heartened and heartbroken by what we have heard this morning. But I am motivated.”

Mohr addressed collateral consequences, saying, “The biggest collateral consequence I see is the stigma of going to prison, that somehow these people are less than us.” Head discussed the death of her son to heroin overdose and said, “Drug addiction is an equal opportunity affliction. We learned the hard way.” Williams continued, saying, “The scarlet letter of our time remains ‘A’ for addict… We have to stop thinking that willpower can overcome brain disease. Willpower needs to be exercised by our policymakers, those who can address this epidemic in our midst.” Finally, Hurley addressed recovery, saying, “Recovery requires a continuum of ever changing supports. It is our responsibility as support providers to understand that.”

This was the third Congressional Addiction Forum of 2014 and helped to continue to raise awareness of the devastating effect on public health and safety that the abuse of heroin and prescription painkillers is having on communities across the United States.


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