The US War on Drugs
COMM-205-505 Group 5
The United States is at war. We have been fighting for decades and yet haven’t found our ways to win the battle of drugs. We have an urgent need to reform the laws regarding illegal drug usage. The proposed solutions to solve the problem are through the limitation of drag trafficking and the decriminalization of the drag usage. Illegal drugs not only harm individual health but also affect family relationships negatively and can eventually lead to violence and affect society negatively as a whole. The drug enforcement system in the US is racially biased towards black and Hispanic defendants. The rehabilitation for drug abusers and addicts in prison is underfunded. It does not provide the proper treatment for prisoners and fails to prevent future drug usage violations. Huge amount of drugs get transported into the U.S. through the borders and postal services. We proposed solutions in two aspects, the first one is the limitation of drug trafficking, and the second one is the decriminalization of drug usage. The proposals are to limit drag traffickers by strengthening the border security and the inspection of the Postal Service System, and to decriminalize the drag uses through forced rehab session.
-- Amy Li
The cost of drug abuse and addiction in the United States is not only financial. It comes in the form of broken families, destroyed careers, death, domestic violence, physical abuse, and child abuse. Drugs have tremendously made a negative impact on the people and our economy. [Gateway Foundation] The different chemical structures in different drugs significantly affect the body and brain in a negative way.
[Gateway Foundation] Health problems: Drug use can weaken the immune system, increasing susceptibility to infections. It causes cardiovascular conditions ranging from abnormal heart rate to heart attacks. Also causes nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. As well as causing liver failure, seizures, stroke.[Gateway Foundation] Effects on Brain: Drugs have been shown to alter brain chemistry, which interferes with an individual's ability to make decisions and can lead to compulsive craving, seeking and use. This then becomes a substance dependency. Impacts all aspects of daily life by causing problems with memory, attention and decision-making, including sustained mental confusion and possible permanent brain damage.
Behavioral Problems: Paranoia, Aggressiveness, Hallucinations, Addiction, Impaired Judgment, Impulsiveness, Loss of Self-Control. [Gateway Foundation] Birth Defects: Nearly 4 percent of pregnant women in the United States use illicit drugs. Some of these drugs can cause a baby to be born too small or too soon, or to have withdrawal symptoms, or learning and behavioral problems.
Illicit drug use in American is steadily increasing. [National Institute on Drug Abuse]. In 2012, an estimated 23.9 million Americans aged 12 or older—or 9.2 percent of the population—had used an illicit drug or abused a psychotherapeutic medication. [National Institute on Drug Abuse]. The increasing use of illegal drugs, tobacco, and alcohol is among youth. Children who use these substances increase the chance of acquiring life-long dependency problems. They also incur greater health risks. [National Institute on Drug Abuse]. Over 2.1 million emergency room visits were related to the abuse of illicit substances. [Gateway Alcohol & Drug Treatment Centers] Violence: At least half of the individuals arrested for major crimes including homicide, theft, and assault were under the influence of illicit drugs at the time of their arrest.
One-third of all AIDS cases in the U.S. have been caused by syringe sharing: 354,000 people. Of the total spending on the war against drugs, billions of dollars has helped produce is the world's highest incarceration rate. [Drug Policy Alliance]. One out of every 110 American adults is behind bars in jail or prison and the U.S. houses nearly 25 percent of the world’s prisoners despite having less than five percent of the world’s total population. [The Huffington Post]. Almost half of federal prisoners are incarcerated for drug crimes. [Drug Policy Alliance]. Number of people arrested for a marijuana law violation in 2013: 693,482.
Number of those charged with marijuana law violations who were arrested for possession only: 609,423 (88 percent). [Bureau of Justice Statistics]. The punishment falls disproportionately on people of color. Blacks make up 50 percent of the state and local prisoners incarcerated for drug crimes. Drug use in America is affecting health of people and causing our economy billions due to the amount spend on jail time versus rehab where they can actually receive help.
-- Alexandria Emerson
[USA Today] Roger Werholtz, former director of the Kansas Department of Corrections, said that “There needs to be a modified approach that includes treatment outside of prison and penalties that don’t make addicts and dealers career prisoners. We are getting a very poor return on our investment.” There is a larger and broader problem than racial disparity with the prison system in the United States. Currently the drug rehabilitation program in the United States, the bureau’s Residential Drug Abuse Program, isn’t reaching full potential and is failing to provide actual help to drug abusers in all prisons. [USA Today] Staff shortages and limited resources due to overcrowding causes thousands of inmates to wait for treatment, some for up to 3 months.
[Hills Center] In a report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, drug and alcohol counseling is available in about 40% of Federal, State, and local adult and juvenile correctional facilities even though 70% to 85% need a degree of substance abuse treatment. This shows that many prisoners aren't even given the opportunity for any kind of treatment or education. [DrugAbuse.gov] A 2004 survey by the U.S. Department of Justice showed that 70% of State and 64% of Federal prisoners regularly used drugs prior to incarceration and 1 in 4 violent offenders committed their offenses under the influence of drugs. These two statistics clearly show that prisons in the United States are failing to actually fix the problem of drug abuse even though it is prevalent in the majority of prisoners.
The final problem to be presented regarding the War on Drugs is the transportation and smuggling of illegal drugs into the United States on land and sea. [Huffington Post] Marijuana accounted for 99.5% of the Border Patrol's drug seizures by weight and was the most seized drug along the U.S. - Mexico border.
Illegal drugs are brought into the United States on land by backpackers and vehicles as well as in the water by boats and semi-submersible vessels. More prominent drug cartels will actually using a vessel that submerges so that only about an inch is visible above the water to try and sneak into the U.S.. In order to curtail the abuse of illegal drugs in the United States the problem must be halted from entering the country in the first place. Two examples of drugs will be used in the explanation of this problem: Marijuana and cocaine. [NBC News] For example, in the state of Arizona, smugglers take advantage of the wide gaps in the border security system using spotters and vehicles. Arizona expects to seize 700 tons of marijuana by the end of the fiscal year, which represents only 20% of all marijuana entering the United States.
[Business Insider] America is the biggest buyer of cocaine and up to 90% of it comes from the Andean nations of Columbia, Peru, and Bolivia. A steadily increasing amount is also brought through Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, and Haiti. One of the ways to limit drug abuse and addiction in the United States is to focus on the transportation of illegal drugs from Central and South America.
-- Michael Russell
The solutions for the problem are approached from two sides. The first one focuses on the limitation of the drug influx into the United States for the drug traffickers. The second one focuses on the discrimination of the drug usage within the nation for the drug abusers.
To limit the drug influx into the nation, strengthening border security is the key. According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, 60 million people enter the US on more than 675,000 commercial and private flights each year; another 6 million come by sea and 370 million by land. In addition, 116 million vehicles annually cross the U.S. National borders of Canada and Mexico. Drug traffickers conceal cocaine, heroin, marijuana, MDMA, and methamphetamine shipments for distribution in the U.S. neighborhoods. To help solve this problem, we propose to require a mandatory background check for anyone who is entering the border to help suspect drug dealers. According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, drug smuggling on the coast has increased over the last few years; however, the Coast Guard’s resource is limited. Therefore, another possible solution that can be proposed is to increase the number of Coast Guards in different locations based on need so that the deterring of the maritime drug smuggling can be achieved in a more efficient manner.
As shocking as it may sound to you, one of the biggest drug couriers in America is the U.S. Postal Service. According to Eric Markowitz on the Vocativ News, former Attorney General Eric Holder confirmed at a Senate committee hearing that, “Postal service is being used to facilitate drug dealing” and that “it is shocking to see the amount of drugs that get pumped into communities all around this country through our mail system.” According to the Columbus Dispatch Newspaper, Postal Inspectors Service reports that in 2009 nearly 23 tons of illegal narcotics were send through the U.S. mail. It is hard to search for illegal drug trafficking through the mailing system because investigators usually need a federal warrant to search packages through the postal service. Furthermore, currently we are not equipped to scan and investigate each package.
A solution that is both economic and efficient is needed. Because of the massive amount of mails that are being carried every day, we need a technology that can detect drugs efficiently in the postal services without opening the packages. Another possible solution is to have working dogs at indicated stations to help identify illegal drugs in the mailing system. Furthermore, to make the mailing system more even, we can require mandatory ID check for every one that uses the service. Anonymous drug traffickers can thereby limited by making it a requirement to present a valid government ID to the Postal Service in order to use the system. To further assist investigators detecting drugs in the packages, we propose having the senders waive the rights to allow the investigators to search their packages when suspected before they enter their mails into the postal system.
-- Amy Li
There is obviously the need to strike a balance between drug policy that reduces the harm of caused directly by drugs, at the same time as minimizing the harm caused by the drug policies themselves. Such harms caused by drug policies include: racial disparity in drug prosecution and sentencing, increased rate of HIV/AIDS transmission, and lack of facilities to help addicts, and public distrust of law enforcement.
The Anti-Drug Abuse of Act of 1986 enacted a new mandatory minimum sentence for the possession of crack cocaine in the amount of 5 grams, while issuing the same minimum for possession 500 grams of powder cocaine; despite the fact that the two drugs are identical in chemical composition. [FAMM] Due to the fact that crack is very common among poor, minority-based communities, this unfair prosecution was the driving factor behind a disproportionate amount of black and hispanic presence in our prison systems. Recently U.S. Congress passed bipartisan legislation, called the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, which repealed the mandatory minimum of crack from its 100:1 weight ratio with cocaine, down to an 18:1 ratio [FAMM]. This legislation was certainly a step in the right direction, however the proponents of this reform failed to attach a retroactive element to the Act. This has left thousands of prisoners, convicted pre-2010, still serving their minimum sentencing despite the change in law. It is our stance that this law should be applied retroactively, and that this act must be revised to include this essential element.
There have been many efforts by both state and federal government to curb the dangers caused by drug-related regulations. One of the ways that state governments have combated the epidemic spread of HIV/AIDS is by implementing legislature that expands access to sterile hypodermic needles and syringes. It is known that over 1/3 of HIV/AIDS cases is caused by the sharing of infected syringes [Drugpolicy.org], so the restriction of access to sterile needles only causing harm to our community by forcing drug addicts to resort to dangerous methods of ingestion. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, syringe access programs lower HIV incidence amount people who inject drugs by 80 percent. However, many states have yet to adopt these measures and a large portion of drug users are forces to participate in syringe sharing. We believe syringe access programs should be passed on a national level, to ensure the health and safety of our public.
Not only is our government taking the initiative to implement progressive drug reform, some private industries are taking in to their own hands to provide safety measures for people who are at risk for overdose. In August of 2014, CVS Pharmacy announced that it would allow its drugstores in Rhode Island to administer an opiate antidote Narcan without a prescription. [Pawlowski] If someone suffering from an opiate overdose receives Narcan in time, it can immediately reverse respiratory depression and save their life. In a collaborative effort by the Board of Pharmacy, local doctors, and CVS, the pharmacy can now offer an immediate solution to the opiate overdose epidemic that Rhode Island has been facing for the past decades. Although this practice does not necessarily align with federal law , these measures ensure the proper treatment for those suffering from drug addiction and should be encouraged by our law makers.
It is our stance that the current policies dealing with drug usage are having a negative impact on the drug problem as a whole. The restrictions and punishments put in place for drug addicts is not only putting our public at risk, it is promoting a form of discrimination toward those people who should be treated as a medical patients rather than criminals. In order to impede the harm done by drugs, we must not focus on restrictions and regulations, and rather refocus our efforts to rehabilitate those who would greatly benefit from a helping hand. In order to achieve a system in which drug addicts can be effectively treated and rehabilitated, we must first cease the discrimination we hold toward drug addicts, and invest in new programs that focus on the drug addict as one in need of assistance. It is our duty as Americans to support legislation that make a positive, effective change to our nations drug dilemma.
-- Conor Purcell
Legalization and decriminalization of drugs has been at the front of global politics. Many nations have realized that the fight against drugs is a fruitless one. Not only is it hopeless but also it is the wrong war. Instead of fight victims of horrible drugs we need to fight for their humanity. Instead of punishment we need to be focused on rehabilitation. Many Americans think that if drugs are decriminalized or legalized our society will be plunged into a state of chaos. I will show you a few examples from around the world and at home that prove this is not the case.
My first example is Portugal because it has a very liberal take on how to handle the situation. To understand Portugal's drugs politics we need to first understand it's history and how drugs entered the country. Portugal was once under a harsh rule of a military dictatorship. Under this rule drugs and other illegal activities where stifled by brute punishment. After the coupe in the 1970's the country was plunged into political instability. Drugs the flooded the country and Portugal lacked the necessary governmental structure to deal with the problem.
Their response to this was decriminalization of all drugs. This does not mean the legalization of drugs because it is still illegal to carry more than a 10 days supply of drugs. The focus in Portugal once again is rehabilitation and not punishment. In a quote by Guolao in Hollerson’s article, “Drug users aren’t criminals, they’re sick”(Hollerson). There have been multiple effects of these drugs policies. One of those is that the number of adults taking drugs has gone up slightly. The number of teenagers taking drugs has gone down and HIV infection rates have gone down by 80% (Hollerson). The main problem Portugal faces when it comes to drugs is that their country is too poor to afford drug rehabilitation programs.
The second example, the Netherlands, is a more conservative example. This is because they strike and midpoint between full decimalization and punishment. Instead of decimalizing all drugs they have decimalized marijuana usage and are keeping pressure on harder drugs. According to Soda, “The Netherlands has successfully separated the drug market” (Soda). The Netherlands have proven that it is possible to pick and choose which drugs you decimalize. Just as in the Portugal example teenage usage of drugs has decreased and HIV transmission has also decreased.
Our last example, Colorado, moves a lot closer to home. Colorado has been on of the leaders in drug reform in the United States. Statewide they have legalized marijuana. It seems that both Americans and Californians want it legal as well. According to the Pew Research Center as cited by the Medical Daily, “53% of Americans say it should be legal” (Medical Daily). The tax revenue gained from these drugs policies have been in the millions and have saved the law enforcement 40-60 million (Drug Policy). According to the FBI as sourced by Drug Policy in their article Status Report, “there has been a 10.1% drop in overall crime and a 5.2% drop in violent crime.
I think its safe to say that decimalization of drugs or certain drugs will not lead to the breakdown of society. Americans have to decide what we policies we want to enact to deal with this growing problem. What we cannot do is let the problem spin out of control. We need to rely on these examples as guides of how we want America’s drug reform to take place.
-- Taylor Jolly
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