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Addiction Experts Praise Haslam's Drug Crimes Sentencing Initiative

At Westbrook Medical Center, they see the pain of addiction every day.

“A lot of these people are parents,” said Marta Pratt, a nurse practitioner. “They’ve lost their children, made mistakes. They want help.”

She said too many people battling addiction end up behind bars, and it doesn’t help them in their recovery, so once they get out, they go back to using.“When you send them to prison, there are no answers,” said Pratt. “No treatment.”It’s part of the reason she was pleased to see Gov. Bill Haslam’s public safety proposal this week, which includes a fresh look at sentencing for drug crimes. Several state officials, including Public Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons, came through Knoxville on a statewide tour promoting the top five principles: reformed sentencing, prevention initiatives, victim’s assistance, Homeland Security restructuring and better statewide data collection.Gibbons said a major part of the plan is proposed sentencing law reform – providing alternatives to prison for minor drug offenders, and creating a strong “three strikes” penalty for major drug traffickers.“It’s really designed to create the right balance, so we’re using prison beds in a smart way,” he said.Haslam also proposed a law that allows police to seek an order of protection on someone's behalf, and to strengthen penalties in domestic abuse cases.Gibbons said the drug sentencing refresh would help the state save money by lowering incarcerations but still get major criminals off the streets.

“Repeat drug traffickers being the example,” he said. “But at the same time, for less serious offenders, we’re trying to create alternatives to hopefully move them in the right direction and become productive citizens in our community.”

“It’s an actual solution to a problem that’s growing,” said Pratt.

Pratt said it’s long overdue – because treating addiction has never been simple. Her clinic uses a drug called Vivitrol to combat drug cravings in patients. Then, with that addressed, they can try to treat the underlying psychological issues of addiction.

Now, she just hopes the governor’s proposals get the necessary funding, keeping people out of prison, and in a doctor’s care.

“I think it’s a great idea,” she said. “There are a lot of people that have a misconception about drug addiction. A lot of people think it’s a choice. It’s really a chronic disease.”

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