A mandatory minimum is a legal punishment given to people involved in certain crimes, regardless of any explanatory factors. Mandatory minimum sentences are in practice for drug-related offenses since the 1980s after enforcement of Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986.  There is a renewed interest in this method recently, and legislators in various states such as Indiana are proposing it to be adopted to curb fentanyl sales. Since their inception, mandatory minimum sentences for drug-related offenses have remained under criticism of the public health professionals.

A police officer rounding up a person in possession of opioid drug can’t reliably assess the intent of use of the substance that whether it is for selling or the person is just in possession of the drug. Thus more and more drug addicts end up in jail instead of a treatment facility. Therefore, the method targets drug addicts more than drug dealers and doing more harm than benefit. Vulnerable populations, for example, people of color, low socio-economic groups, and rural community are more susceptible to be impacted by such legislation. From the previous experience of mandatory minimum sentences, it is observed that these drug addicts are more likely to use higher doses of opioids and other drugs after release and thus face an increased risk of dying due to opioid overdose.

From the perspective of harm reduction, it’s more viable to invest in treatment programs, medical support and safe need disposal programs rather than wasting time and resources in mass incarceration interventions such as mandatory minimum sentences.

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