Drug Policy: The Lindsey Lohan Effect

If actress/starlet/addict Lindsay Lohan accomplishes nothing else in this life — and this seems increasingly probable — we’ll at least be able to say that she has sparked a conversation about the relative merits of drug treatment versus incarceration.

As you may know, Lohan used up even the long rope afforded repeat offenders in Hollywood and was sent to jail in July for violating the terms of her probation stemming from a drunk-driving conviction. Lohan’s teary courtroom appearances have elicited some sympathy.

“Drunk driving is deplorable. Blowing off court-ordered responsibilities and showing up to trial with expletives scrawled on your fingernails is not the way to garner respect. And Ms. Lohan is not above the law,” wrote Rebecca Macatee in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed. “But eating disorders, alcoholism, drug addiction and apparent psychological illness should not be laughed at by the American public. Since I can’t guarantee that I wouldn’t have succumbed to similar demons had I lived a life like Ms. Lohan’s, I won’t gawk at her condition, and I will root for her to get the help she desperately needs.”

However, Simma Lieberman reflected the disgust of many over the serial “rehab-abuse’ so prevalent in Hollywood in a column at CNN.com.

“Rehab is getting a bad name from this, and I worry that this will rub off on our perceptions of the average alcoholic or drug addict who works hard to stay clean and sober, takes responsibility for his or her actions — and knows that there is still work to do after the first 30 days,” she wrote. “Let’s stop glamorizing these celebrity addicts and adding to their out-of-control drama. Let’s get real about their addictions and the impact on their families. Let’s discuss solutions, and all the options for help. Let’s sensationalize being clean and sober.”

Those solutions may include a mix of treatment and jail for people like Lohan, suggests Wall Street Journal health blogger Katherine Hobson, who chatted with David Festinger, director of the Treatment Research Institute’s Section on Law & Ethics. Festinger touted drug court and predicted that the model will continue to grow as communities seek to bridge the gap between punishment and compassion in cases like Lohan’s. “They hold offenders responsible and have some kind of graduated sanctions, but also get people struggling with an addiction the access to the help they need,” wrote Hobson of drug courts.

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