The United States boasts some of the finest medical knowledge in the world; is known for it’s charitable help to third world countries and yet there’s an epidemic that it chooses to ignore and even vilify. Drug addiction, to both illegal and legal drugs, is on the rampage. In 2001, 16. 6 million cases of drug addiction were reported- that’s 7. 3% of the population. Our emergency rooms are overflowing with drug related emergencies and our jails are packed with criminals charged with drug related crimes.
The American medical society can be partially blamed for our national addictions. From heroin and cocaine in the early 1900’s, to tranquilizers and diet pills in the 60’s and 70’s to today’s highly addictive pain killers, doctor’s have pushed pills at us , toting them as miracle cures, and the like. Americans are a society that is always looking for new ideas and new ways to solve problems, and these instant solutions always seem like a good thing- and usually aren’t (King, 2006).
Unfortunately, doctor’s are less inclined to treat those they addict- they would rather ignore the problem or chalk it up to a weak will, than face the fact that without their overzealous marketing, the majority of these people would never have become addicts. Those doctors that wish to help their patients are met with little choice – if the patient has no insurance, there are very few treatment centers. It’s the middle and lower class addicts that suffer the most- due to lack of money, influence and insurance.
One the other side of addiction- namely street drugs, we again see the want for a miracle cure. Many kids experiment out of curiosity, but the majority that become heavy drug users usually start using drugs as an escape and because they see their parents do drugs too. They also see drugs as a way of making quick money and to escape the poverty they live in (Addiction, 2002). Unfortunately for either type of user, there is no escape. Drugs often lead to death- whether suicide, accidental overdose, fighting between dealers, or the various diseases that can come from chronic drug use.
At least one spell of incarceration is guaranteed for the street drug user- usually for dealing or violence related to dealing. Conversely, prescription drug addicts usually end up in incarceration for various crimes to support their habits- crimes that are usually more sophisticated such as theft and forgery. Either way, however, these addicts end up in jail- in a system that is only there to make sure they serve a sentence- rather than help them to overcome the problem (Addiction, 2002).
A movement to change drug addiction from a crime to a public health problem is beginning in America. This approach has already been tried in the Netherlands with results showing a marked reduction in the number of heroin addicts over a two-year period. There, drug traffickers are prosecuted, and drug addicts that commit other crimes such as theft are punished for those crimes, but are not charged with possession. Instead rehabilitation is ordered and received. (Bertran, Sharpe, Andreas, 1996)
In 2007, the Second Chance Act was put before Congress. This bill will allow funds to be allotted to State governments to set up alcohol and substance abuse programs for inmates. It also authorizes the creation of drug treatment and rehabilitation centers as alternatives to incarceration for non-violent offenders. While this is still in the legislative process, it is a step toward changing the futures of many Americans. Conclusion It’s time for Americans to step back and take a long look at their attitudes about drug addiction.
It’s obvious from our jails and morgues that our current policies and ideas are not working. References King, Rufus (2006) The Drug Hang Up, America’s Fifty-Year Folly retrieved from http://www. druglibrary. org/special/king/dhu/dhu5. htm “Drug Addiction is an Illness, not a Crime” (2002) retrieved from http://www. drug -addiction. com/addiction_is_illness. htm Bertran, Eva; Sharpe, Kenneth; Andreas, Peter (1996 )Drug War Politics: The Price of Denial University of California Press retrieved from http://books. google. com /books? id=baWsThZgBaQC&printsec on January 31 2009.