Reducing Barriers to Recovery

November 2, 2022

Beginning in the 1970s, America has relentlessly pursued a “War on Drugs,” aimed at addressing the use of substances across the country. To be blunt, the so-called War has been a disaster. Felony penalties for drug possession – including for trace amounts of various substances – have fostered mass incarceration and created long-term harm for millions of people dealing with addiction and other treatable conditions.

For simply using drugs, too many have lost the ability to create a better life through access to employment, education, housing, services and health care.

As a majority of Americans have turned against the harsh approach of the War on Drugs, there is a new opportunity to adopt policies that take a public health and public safety approach to substance disorder, not relying solely on punishment and prison.  Indeed, nearly 8 in 10 voters in Illinois support treatment and harm reductions services for those arrested with small amounts of drugs. 

This report, Reducing Barriers to Recovery, offers an exploration of Illinois’ current drug laws, the harm those laws visit on the lives of people who use drugs, and a proposal for a new model, built on forging connections to community-based treatment and harm reduction services. 



LEARN MORE ABOUT HB 3447: Reducing Barriers to Recovery 

Drug possession laws target people for punishment, not treatment.

Drug possession laws disproportionately target Black Illinoisans.

Jails and prisons are not treatment centers.

Felony drug convictions cost Illinois taxpayers millions of dollars every year.

  • Between 2018 and 2021, imprisoning people for low-level drug possession cost the State of Illinois over $190 million.