Press Release

Drug Policy Alliance Urges Policymakers to Put Public Health First & Take Immediate Action to Protect Vulnerable Populations During COVID-19

Public Officials Must Reduce Incarceration & Immigrant Detention Capacity, Stop Minor Arrests and Ensure Continued Access to MAT & Medical Marijuana

Contact: 
Matt Sutton 212-613-8026
msutton@drugpolicy.org

New York, NY – Below is a statement from Richard Burns, Interim Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance, urging policymakers to take immediate action to protect the health and well-being of the most vulnerable populations during COVID-19—including the incarcerated, homeless, people with substance use disorder, those who rely on access to medication-assisted treatment or medical marijuana, and immigrants:

“With the rapid escalation of COVID-19 exposing systematic weaknesses within the United States’ critical infrastructure, it is incumbent upon policymakers to take swift and unprecedented measures to protect the most vulnerable among us – including those in jail or prison, the homeless, people with substance use disorder, those who rely on access to medication-assisted treatment or medical marijuana, and immigrants.

Due to their circumstances, these populations face challenges taking the most basic of steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19, like engaging in social distancing. During this ongoing crisis it also becomes harder for them to access necessary medication assisted treatment—such as methadone or buprenorphine, or medical marijuana – as well as other health and harm reduction resources. 

It is vital that policymakers put public health above all else right now to ensure the health and safety of these vulnerable people as well as broader society. We must urgently start reducing capacity in jails, prisons and immigrant detention centers by releasing older people and others that pose no risk to public safety. We must immediately halt the arrest and prosecution of people for minor offenses like drug possession, sex work and other various ‘crimes of poverty’ as some prosecutors, who recognize the gravity of the pandemic have already begun doing. This will take those most at risk of contracting COVID-19 out of harm’s way and free up important public safety resources to assist with the ongoing crisis. To continue haphazardly with business as usual in this regard is to let the ship go down with the lifeboats still attached. We can and must act now.”

For other resources around COVID-19, please visit drugpolicy.org/covid19.

Criminal Justice Reform