The question specifies the “Alcoholic and Narcotic Addict Rehabilitation Act of 1968,” which are amendments to preexisting federal statutes, particularly to the “Narcotic Addict Rehabilitation Act of 1966,” which is actually the more important legislative initiative in that it set the tone for the block grants that would authorized two years later. Consequently, in order to understand the 1968 legislation, it is necessary to first discuss the 1966 Act.
The 1960s, of course, witnessed an explosion in the use – or abuse – of narcotics and other drugs by the burgeoning anti-establishment movements that formed out of opposition to the war in Vietnam and to the racial tensions that continued to plague some of America’s cities and towns. With the explosion in drug use, of course, came a major increase in drug-related arrests, and the beginning of the problem of prison overpopulation attributable in no small part to the drug laws that emphasized incarceration as the appropriate penalty for drug law violations. It was in this context that the “Alcoholic and Narcotic Addict Rehabilitation Act of 1966 was passed. Even before the Johnson Administration’s escalation of the U.S. role in Vietnam, however, drug abuse had been recognized as a problem warranting high-level attention. The administration of John F. Kennedy had commissioned a study into the problems of addiction and crime in the United States and the attorney general, Kennedy’s brother Robert, was instrumental in setting U.S. policy on the problem of drugs. The report that resulted, “Interim report of President’s Advisory Commission on Narcotics and Drug Abuse”, dated April 3, 1963, set the tone for the legislative initiatives that would follow. Unsurprisingly, one of the congressional leaders on the issue would be New York Senator Robert F. Kennedy.
The fruit of Kennedy, and fellow New York Senator Jacob Javitz’s efforts was the “Narcotic Addict Rehabilitation Act of 1966, Public Law 89-793, which established as U.S. policy
“. . .that certain persons charged with or convicted of violating Federal criminal laws, who are determined to be addicted to narcotic drugs, and likely to be rehabilitated through treatment, should, in lieu of prosecution or sentencing, be civilly committed for confinement and treatment designed to effect their restoration to health, and return to society as useful members.”
In short, the significance of this legislation was to shift the focus from incarceration of addicts to treatment. The “Alcoholic and Narcotic Addict Rehabilitation Act” of 1968, Title III of Public Law 90-574, added substance to the 1966 Act by authorizing funding for states to build and operate alcohol and drug treatment facilities through the provision of block grants. By expanding the focus of the 1966 Act to include alcoholism, Congress was acknowledging the similarities the nature of addictions, noting:
“The handling of chronic alcoholics within the system of criminal justice perpetuates and aggravates the broad problem of alcoholism whereas treating it as a health problem permits early detection and prevention of alcoholism and effective treatment and rehabilitation, relieves police and other law enforcement agencies in an inappropriate burden that impedes their important work, and better serves the interests of the public.”
The passage of the Alcoholic and Narcotic Addict Rehabilitation Act of 1968, (in conjunction with earlier acts) reflected the growing acceptance in the medical community that addiction is a type of illness and that addicts benefit more from treatment than from criminal punishment.
Here is an excerpt from that act:
“The handling of chronic alcoholics within the system of criminal justice perpetuates and aggravates the broad problem of alcoholism whereas treating it as a health problem permits early detection and prevention of alcoholism and effective treatment and rehabilitation, relieves police and other law enforcement of an inappropriate burden that impedes their important work, and better serves the interests of the public.... It is the purpose of this part to help prevent and control alcoholism through authorization of Federal aid in the construction and staffing of facilities for the prevention and treatment of alcoholism."
Battles have waged for nearly one hundred years on whether to treat addiction as a disease or as a personal choice that warrants punishment. As far back as the 1920s, doctors opened clinics to dispense morphine and heroin to addicts in small enough doses to keep the addict functioning in society. These doctors tried to continually lower the dose given in order to wean the addict from his drug of choice; they hoped that crime would then go down. The federal government argued, however, that due to the Harrison Act of 1914, which taxed the sale of opiates, that doctors were not allowed to distribute narcotics for free. Even so, Congress became increasingly concerned with the need to rehabilitate addicts even as the penalties for narcotics trafficking increased.
Because of these dueling interests in addiction, in 1929, Congress created a Narcotics Division, (which was soon renamed the rather Orwellian-sounding “Division of Mental Hygene.) This division was part of the Porter Act of 1929, which established two “narcotic farms.” The first “farm” was built in 1935 in Lexington, Kentucky and the second in Fort Worth, Texas, in 1938. For both, the idea was to create separate confinement facilities that would also treat addicts while they were incarcerated. These two prisons operated until the early 1970s.
In the 1960s, efforts were renewed to accept addiction as a legitimate mental illness. In 1963, the Community Mental Health Act allowed for federal money to fund grants for the construction and staffing of facilities that emphasized preventative, community-oriented care on an outpatient basis for addicts and others with mental health issues rather than committing people to state mental facilities. In 1965, Congress established the Bureau of Drug Abuse Control within the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, which became the Department of Health and Human Services.
Efforts to rehabilitate, rather than punish, addicts continued with the passage of the the Narcotic Addict Rehabilitation Act (NARA) in 1966. NARA allowed judges to offer addicted defendants civil commitments, which could range from months to several years, and a probationary period instead of criminal prosecution. Should the offender re-offend, however, the government could then pursue criminal prosecution. The NARA, like the Community Mental Health Act, was also provided with federal grants to fund its rehabilitation and treatment programs.
Source: Major Acts of Congress, ©2004 Gale Cengage. All Rights Reserve