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[ Opinion ]

America’s Deadly Pastime

Since the 19th century when Americans first discovered new wonder drugs like morphine, heroin and cocaine, our society has confronted the problems of drug abuse, addiction, and trafficking. It has become a societal epidemic that the government has increasingly found difficult to fight. It has been increasingly difficult to regulate pharmaceutical companies due to the amount of money they produce; a large chunk of that revenue going directly back to the United States Government. More often than not, drug use and trafficking has caused there to be a direct correlation between the increase in prison population and crime, health issues, the amount of money taxpayers and Government put out to address this issue, and the effects it has on family’s who have a loved one with an addiction.

One of the biggest contributors to the creation of more addicts is the Prescription drug companies. According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, prescription drug abuse is the second most abused drug after marijuana (Office of National Drug Policy). The fascinating news, is that the latest national survey on drug use and health reports that 70 percent of people who use pills got them from friends or family. Only 5 percent got them from a drug dealer or over the internet. Most people look at heroin, cocaine, or other hard drugs as being unacceptable. However, any individual is able to walk into a local pharmacy and pick up a prescription written by a doctor for Oxytocin, Adderall or Marinol, all the equivalent of the drugs just stated above. 

When people can acquire a powerful “drug” so readily, measures to prevent future addicts becomes increasingly difficult. Children and teenagers frequently raid their parents,’ grandparents,’ or friends’ medicine cabinets to secure quantities of these medications, which they in turn use themselves or sell to a close friend or acquaintance. (National Institute of Health). This potentially can create a growing number of teens involving themselves in crimes which the individual would normally not commit. This puts enormous pressure on the families and the economy. Family’s dealing with an addict can end up putting forth large amounts of money for rehabs, stints in jail, and buying back the family’s own property that was stolen by their loved one. This can create stress at home, absences at work for parent’s and neglected younger siblings.

Due to the increase of cost to treat addiction, expanded police force and rise in health related problems, illicit drug use cost the economy more than 193 billion dollars according to estimates from a study by the department of justice’s national drug intelligence center ( 2007, NDIC). The NDIC also mentions that the amount that society spends on diabetes is equal to what’s being spent on drugs. The biggest spender of these funds is in law enforcement. According to Mary H. Cooper, of the total federal budget for the drug war, which reached 12 million in 1993, about 70 percent went toward law-enforcement programs, including anything from extraditions to street arrests. The problem is that out of the 14 million arrests made in 1990, two-thirds of them were for drug possession, not dealing, (Cooper, pp. 15) causing those particular arrests to more than double since 1980. Unfortunately, filling up the prisons with minor drug offenders does not leave much room for murderers and rapists. It has forces judges to make lighter sentences for criminals that should be incarcerated, and closing the door for drug users, who, other than there drug use, would never commit a crime, such as possession of an illegal substance or theft to obtain it. Most of these offenses are non-violent, putting an increasingly large amount of first-time offenders behind bars with a sentence that does not match the crime. The criminal justice system is spending too much time and money on first-time offenders, raising the cost to taxpayers and ignoring the real problem, the addiction itself. According to California’s Legislative Analyst’s Office, it costs a whopping 48,102 dollars to house one inmate for a year. Considering that two-thirds of these inmates are in for possession, it seems that a likely assumption could be made that the United States could save millions of dollars if some of these laws were to be changed.

Addiction raises the amount of cost spent on health care each year. Health issues for the people that are abusing these drugs are great. Heroin has made a come-back along with Prescription pills, which amount to one of the most singly abused drugs in this country. Many of the medical concerns associated with these two drugs are overdose, liver problems, organ failures, blood to blood diseases such as Hepatitis C or AIDS, and many other side effects too numerous to mention.

Opiate overdoses have substantially increased due to prescription pills, whereas, before it was strictly from heroin (Office of National Drug Control Policy). Heroin and prescription pills became the cause for the most emergency room visits in 2004 and 2009, all under the age of 21 (“Drugs and Society…). These visits are general by uninsured individuals, many who will continue their use if no intervention is presented to them. The hospital becomes a revolving door, until unfortunately; the substance takes their life, a sad, but realistic truth. The hospitals in recognizing the number of younger and younger people being admitted for drug related abuse, began to reach out to communities and organizations and there local states with the statistics they had been recording. Mathea Falco recognizes a school-based program in Kansas City, Mo. called STAR (Students Taught Awareness and Resistance). The program teaches junior high students how to resist beginning to try drugs. It is in place in over 500 schools in Kansas City, Indianapolis, and Washington, D.C. This program has shown over the last 30 years that the use of alcohol, marijuana, and tobacco, among participants is 20 to 40 percent lower than other kids. If children are educated at a young age, the likely hood of the individual to follow down the wrong path is greatly decreased.

Looking back at these issues, it is easy to see that something needs to be done to prevent this society from suffering so greatly from the effects of drug abuse and addiction. Some organizations are considering that a higher education and an entirely different approach to reducing drug use is what is key. Accepting a different approach could potentially decrease the amount of money American’s spend on fighting this disease every year. The Government must spend more time focused on fighting the drug dealers, and less on the people who actually use the drugs. Instead of fighting against the users, let’s focus more energy on managing that person’s addiction, rather than incarcerating them.