Euphoria laid bare the pitfalls of the criminalizing addiction

Drug addiction is sweeping the nation, star of Euphoria, Zendaya portrays the importance of forgiveness and treatment for people struggling with substance abuse.

By Emily Sullivan
By Emily Sullivan

Emily started working for The Des in 2021, as a junior in Public Relations and Marketing Communications at Simmons University in Boston, Massachusetts; alongside a minor in Women’s and Gender Studies

One of the most heart racing moments of Euphoria’s latest season was Rue’s escape from the police. She was deep in the throes of withdrawal from her addiction and nearing rock bottom again. It was a painful scene to watch, she’s puking and running and barely escapes the officers after breaking into a house to try and steal money to pay for drugs.

It’s the perfect example of how addiction so often leads to criminal activities, and it’s not until it does that people receive help. And that help is often in the form of arrest and jail and incarceration which just throws a life into more chaos and often prevents a person from finding help. While the justice system most often criminalizes drug users, addiction is more a mental and public health concern.

 

“In 2018, there were 1,654,282 drug arrests in the U.S., the vast majority of which (86%) were for drug possession or use rather than for sale or manufacturing,” according to a March 24, 2020 report from the Prison Policy Institute. Drug arrests are often for nonviolent crimes like usage and possession that do not directly harm others or the public.

"It’s the perfect example of how addiction so often leads to criminal activities, and it’s not until it does that people receive help. And that help is often in the form of arrest and jail and incarceration which just throws a life into more chaos and often prevents a person from finding help."

We see Rue and her minor run-in with the law after robbing a house where she gets caught by the house owners and then gets chased out of the house. She comes across a police car that notices she is not doing well. When she immediately dashes away, she spends the rest of the night dodging the cops. Rue’s perception of the situation is that she would have gotten in trouble had she talked to the police. The police are unapproachable in situations like Rue because where she really needs help, she would have been punished.

Prison Policy Initiative
Prison Policy Initiative

Katie Zuber, Patricia Strach, and Elizabeth Pérez-Chiqués from the Rockefeller Government Institute wrote a piece that addresses the “tough on crime approach” adopted by some policy makers.

 
In a Vox article from April 2018, German Lopez wrote “At the federal level, policymakers have been widely criticized for reinstating harsh mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders… imposing a ten-year minimum sentence on first offenders who make, sell, or transport illicit opioids and authorizing law enforcement to charge drug dealers with homicide has been considered in states like Arizona and New York, respectively.”

 
These policies contribute to why the police are unapproachable when dealing with drug abusers who really just need help.


The Prison Policy Institute reported that in 2018, there were 450,000 people incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses on any day. The majority were in state facilities or local and private prisons.

 
Rue’s close calls with the police bring to light the intersection of the criminal justice system and addiction.

 
Zendaya’s parting words after episode five inspire the attitude she wants people to have towards Rue.

 
“It’s my hope for people watching that they still see her as a person worthy of their love… I think that if people can go with her through that, and get to the end, and still have hope for her future, and watch her make changes and steps to heal and humanize her through her sobriety journey and her addiction, then maybe they can extend that to people in real life.”

People with drug addictions need treatment, support and most importantly forgiveness and compassion. They are human beings. Incarcerating them does not treat the core problem.

Emily Sullivan
Screenshot from Euphoria

The theme of forgiveness is cemented in the last episode of the season. Rue learns the importance of forgiving herself. She recognizes that she is a human being who has gone through difficult life circumstances (her father died from cancer). Rue also realizes the importance of forgiveness towards others. She forgives her friend Elliot for uncovering her relapse, she forgives her girlfriend Jules for their relationship problems.

 

Rue also uses compassion to apologize to those she has affected in her addiction journey. She apologizes to her mother, one of her more important relationships. She apologizes to her best friend Lexi for not being present in her life.

 

It is through Rue’s forgiveness, compassion and most importantly, humanity, that she begins to recognize her worth and has the courage to turn the corner in her addiction. If she had been arrested and sent to jail after robbing the house it would have blocked her from going through these processes.

 

People with drug addictions need treatment, support and most importantly forgiveness and compassion. They are human beings. Incarcerating them does not treat the core problem.

Screenshot from Euphoria