Since the early 1960s, there has been an alarming increase in drug use in the United States. In 1962, four million Americans had tried an illegal drug. By 1999, that number had risen to a staggering 87.7 million, according to the 1999 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse. The study also found that the number of illicit drug users who were above the age of 12 and had used drugs in the past month reached a high of 25.4 million in 1979, decreased through the late 1980s to a low of 12 million in 1992, and has since increased to 14.8 million in 1999.
Drug use among teens, and even younger children, has been steadily increasing for the past several years. According to the 1998 National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse survey, teen marijuana use is up almost 300 percent since 1992. In 1999, 55 percent of high school seniors reported having used an illicit drug, while just seven years ago, only 41 percent said they had, according to the Monitoring the Future Study. Between 1991 and 1999, the same study reported illicit drug use among younger children (age 13 to 14) increased by 51 percent, from 18.7 percent to 28.3 percent.
While most Americans are aware that drug use in the United States is becoming more prevalent among our youth, many do not realize the profound impact the drug epidemic has on the country as a whole. Widespread drug use results in a less efficient, less productive workforce. According to a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration survey, employees who test positive for drugs make more than twice as many claims for worker s compensation, use almost twice the medical benefits, and take one-third more leave time as non-users. They are also 60 percent more likely to be responsible for accidents. The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) estimates that the monetary cost of illegal drug use to society is $110 billion a year.
In addition, drug-related violence and crime pose a grave, and much more direct threat to the United States. According to the 1999 Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring Program, 75 percent of the male adults arrested in New York City for committing a violent crime tested positive for drug use. This report also showed that in smaller cities like Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, the percentages were as high as 64 percent.
The drug epidemic is also taking a toll on the very core of American society – the family. According to the ONDCP’s 1998 National Drug Control Strategy, drug use causes violence and abuse within families:
1) One-quarter to one-half of all incidents of domestic violence are
substance abuse to be one of the key problems exhibited by 81
percent of the families reported for child maltreatment, and 3) 3.2
These statistics, reflect only the social and familial effects of drug abuse, and therefore, show only a small portion of the suffering endured by American families as a result of drugs abuse (Drug Use In The United States).
Statistics would indicate that some measure of control is needed. But as stated in The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison, [T]he United States has an enormous drug abuse and addiction problem; however, the attempts to cure it are worse than the disease itself. In this paper, I will attempt to answer the following questions: 1) How illicit and/or legal drug use relates to crime? Here I will also address the statistics quantifying the occurrence of drug use in the U.S. In this section I will note the general characteristics of those we identify as offenders and victims. 2) What are the causes of drug use? 3) Finally, how can we control this behavior in order to reduce the harm? Here I will analyze crime control strategies vs. harm reduction strategies and determine which strategies will be the most effective in reducing the harm.
HOW ILLICIT AND/OR LEGAL DRUG USE RELATES TO CRIME?
Drug use relates to crime in that as legal prohibition on drugs like heroin drives its street value up, only those people willing to risk punishment will sell it. High costs make the purchase of heroin, marijuana, cocaine, and opiates difficult for some and can be attributed to some of the criminal acts. These are the criminal acts that are committed in the name of drugs and usually committed only in an attempt to obtain money for the drug. The FBI reports that the half-million addicts need to steal $18,750,000,000 a year to support their habits. It is reported the value of stolen property would increase dramatically if we knew the value of unreported thefts. The National Drug Control Policy indicates that in 1995, Americans spent $55 billion on three illegal drugs; $38 billion on cocaine alone, $10 billion on heroin, another $7 billion on marijuana. Another $3 billion was estimated to for the purchase of other illegal drugs and legal drugs used illicitly (The Rich, p 39). In 1997 one out of every six prisoners (19% of state inmates and 15% of federal inmates) admit they committed their current offense in order to get money for drugs (The Rich, p 39). Duke and Gross offered the following statements:
If a drug habit can be fed only at great expense, and if the
demand for drugs is relatively inelastic, then crime to obtain
money to buy drugs are inevitable Drug prohibition has also
resulted in the creation of several other hitherto unimagined
reports possession and distribution of precursor chemicals.
Violation of these criminal provisions number in the millions.
[T]he second crime wave: Crimes to get Drug Money is
another symptom of drug abuse [T]he threat of a drug
prosecution can be used by police to obtain other benefits
including sexual favors, money and other property.
(Americas Longest War, p 106-108).
A 1991 survey of federal and state prisons, found that drug offenders, burglars, and robbers in state prisons were the most likely to report being under the influence of drugs while committing crimes. Of convicted property and drug offenders, about 1 in 4 had committed their crimes to get money for drugs. A higher percentage of drug offenders in 1996 (24%) than in 1989 (14%) were in jail for a crime committed to raise money for drugs.
Percent of jail inmates who committed offense to get money for drugs
Offense 1996 1989
Total 15.8 % 13.3 %
Violent 8.8 11.5
Property 25.6 24.4
Drugs 23.5 14.0
Public-order 4.2 3.3
Source: BJS, Profile of Jail Inmates, 1996, NCJ 164620, April 1998.
Although homicide, assault and public order offenses are crimes that are committed under the influence of drugs, inmates in state prisons who had been convicted of homicide, assault, and public order offenses were least likely to report being under the influence of drugs. The chart below illustrates the rate of murder in a year period as it relates to drug use.
The chart shows in the year of 1989 there were 1400 drug-related murders. It would seem in correlating crime with drug use, most prevalent is property related crimes.
Research has shown that crime is related to drug use. Also that the crime that is related to drug use has an extremely wide span. This crime span includes the addicts, law enforcement, judicial system, social destruction, etc. Although Jeffrey Reiman author of The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison would argue that opiate addiction is not in itself a cause of crime if anything, it is a pacifier. It would seem also Duke and Gross would argue that drug-use is not the cause of crime, but crime is a result of the prohibition of drugs.
This problem of drug-abusers and crime manifests itself in the deterioration of entire neighborhoods. This is characterized by the closing of neighborhood businesses, decreased community involvement in crime watch, crime prevention and crime reporting organizations, and a subsequent increase in crime rates. Duke and Gross substantiate the above theory with the eighth crime wave, which states:
The vigilante reflex is a result of deteriorating law enforcement.
Individuals believe it is their duty to preserve their neighborhood
therefore, the neighborhood drug house is torched and a criminal
act of arson is committed. Neighborhoods where illegal drug
markets flourish are plagued by attendant crime and violence Drug
abuse takes a toll on society that can only be partially measured.
While we are able to estimate the number of drug-related crimes
that occur each year, we can never determine fully the extent to
diminished by drug-related criminal behavior. (America s Drug
Abuse Profile, 2000).
Duke and Gross added to the above idea with the ninth crime wave: Social Deterioration. As crime rates increase in a neighborhood, fear takes over and decline and disorder begins (Americans, p 120). They maintain that those who have the means to escape drug riddled neighborhood do and those who do not become hostages to their environments. When playgrounds become the turf of ruffians and businesses close, the reporting of criminal activity diminishes. This decrease in reporting does not reflect a low crime rate, but is reflective of the community members feeling the situation is hopeless. They began making the calls prior to the community businesses moving, once they had relocated, there was no point in saving the neighborhood. Sadly, the crime rates in these areas soar (Americans, p 120).
WHAT ARE THE CAUSES OF DRUG USE?
Individuals use drugs for various reasons eight of which are listed below: 1) Poor self image, low self esteem, and lack confidence, 2) They have not been cared for or come from families who neglected them, 3) They have a poor relationship with their parents, 4) Some are not well-educated or have obtained the basic educational skills such as reading and writing. Some of these individuals face various hardships throughout their lives, 5) Others have suffered some sort of trauma in their lives. This trauma could be physical, emotional, verbal, and/or sexual abuse. These individuals may feel a sense of never having developed proper family relationships, involving separation, foster care or adoption, 6) Some users were unable to relate to authority figures and attempt to rebel, 7) Many modeled their addictions on the habits of their parents, and 8) Users may have a pre-disposition for substance abuse or other addictive/dependent behaviors. The overall truth is that drug users come from a variety of social backgrounds, and from all ages (An Analysis. 2000).
Research shows that blacks make up about 13% of regular drug users in the U.S., yet account for 62.7% of all drug offenders sent to prison. While there are five times as many white drug users than black drug users, black men are admitted to state prisons for drug offenses at a rate that is 13.4 times greater than that of white men. This drives an overall black incarceration rate that is 8.2 times higher than the white incarceration rate. In seven states, blacks constitute 80 to 90% of all drug offenders sent to prison. In 15 states, black men are admitted to state prison for drug charges at a rate that is 20 to 57 times the white male rate. The numbers above describe a nearly unilateral increase in the use of prison as an attempt to deal with the drug issue in the United States. They tell only part of the story. The following data clearly shows the brunt of the war on drugs being shouldered by the African American community. While many more whites use drugs than blacks in America, prison space for drug offenses is increasingly reserved for African Americans (Drug Abuse, 2000).
The overall rate of admission to prison for drug offenses was 63 per 100,000 in 1996. When dichotomized by race, however, the rates reveal vast disparities. Whites were sent to prison for drug offenses at a much lower rate (20 per 100,000) than were African Americans (279 per 100,000), in 1996. That means blacks are incarcerated for a drug offense at a rate 14 times that of whites, while survey data reveals that five times as many whites use drugs as blacks. (Drug Abuse, 2000).
Both whites and blacks were admitted to prison at higher rates in 1996 than 1986. However, for blacks the increase was much more dramatic. Whites experienced a 115% increase in the rate of drug admissions, from 9 to 20 per 100,000. Meanwhile the black rate of 49 per 100,000 in 1986 skyrocketed by 465% to 279 per 100,000 in 1996 (Graph 6). Put another way, while the white drug commitment rate doubled from 1986 to 1996, the black rate quintupled (see Graph 7). Despite the doubling of the white drug commitment rate between 1986 and 1996, the black rate of commitment to prison for drug offenses in 1986 was still 2 1/2 times the 1996 white rate.
In 1986 the gap between the percent of new admissions for blacks and whites that were the result of drug convictions was small and in some states the percentage for whites exceeded that of blacks. During the “Punishing 90’s,” however, the percent of blacks entering prison for drug offenses outstripped that of whites, in some states more than two to one (Poor Prescription). As the drug use relates to age, employed and unemployed, current statistics show illicit drug use was relatively more common among younger workers than among older workers. About 12 percent of 18 to 25-year-old workers, almost 9 percent of 26 to 34-year-old workers, and more than 5 percent of 35 to 49-year-old workers reported current illicit drug use. However, the largest number of full-time workers who reported current illicit drug use was estimated to be in the older age categories: over two million full-time workers in each of the two older age groups, but only about one-and-a-half million workers in the younger age group, were estimated to be current illicit drug users. These results reflect the fact that only about 16.3 percent of full-time workers, age 18-49, in the U.S. are age 18-25, while 31.8 percent are age 26-34 and 51.9 percent are age 35-49. As drug use relates to gender, employed an unemployed, statistics show male workers were more likely than female workers to report current illicit drug use. About nine percent of males, yet only five percent of females, reported current illicit drug use. This translates to an estimated four million males, but only about one-and-a-half million females, were current illicit drug users. (Poor Prescription, 2000).
White workers had higher rates of current illicit drug use than black or Hispanic workers (8%, 7%, and 6%, respectively). In addition, the estimated number of users was overwhelmingly white: about 83 percent of the estimated number of current illicit drug users were white, almost 9 percent were black, and another 7 percent were Hispanic. These numbers reflect the racial/ethnic distribution of the full-time workforce in the United States: 78.5 percent were white, 11.5 percent was black, and 10.0% was Hispanic (these percentages do not include any other ethnic groups). (Poor Prescription, 2000)
Finally, full-time workers who reported the lowest personal income (less than $9,000 per year) and those who reported the highest personal income ($75,000 or more) also reported the highest rates of current illicit drug use. Although these two groups comprise only 12 percent of the full-time workforce age 18-49, they include 21 percent of those, age 18-49, reporting current illicit drug use. Over 12 percent of the members of these two groups reported current illicit drug use, but less than 10 percent of the members of the other income groups reported current illicit drug use. However, data on the distribution of the estimated number of users by income show a different pattern. The largest estimated numbers of users were from those groups of workers who reported personal annual incomes of $9,000 to $19,999 and $20,000 to $39,999. Over 65 percent of the estimated number of current illicit drug users came from these two groups. However, 68.4 percent of the total number of full-time workers age 18-49 also came from these two income groups. (Poor Prescription, 2000)
Figure 2.2 provides comparable information on heavy alcohol use. As with current illicit drug use, a higher rate of heavy alcohol use was found among 18 to 25-year-old workers (13.6%) than among 26 to 34-year-old or 35 to 49-year-old workers (8.9% and 6.3%, respectively). A majority of the estimated users were found among the older workers. Once again, this is due in part, to the fact that a large majority of full-time workers between the ages of 18 to 49 were age 26 to 49 years old. (Poor Prescription, 2000).
Males were more likely than females, and whites were more likely than blacks, to report heavy alcohol use. The estimated number of users also shows that a large majority of heavy alcohol users were white male workers. . (An Analysis, 2000)
The distribution of heavy alcohol use by personal income was slightly different than the distribution of current illicit drug use by personal income. Heavy alcohol use was more likely to be reported by workers in the two lower income brackets (less than $9,000 and $9,000-$19,999) than by workers in the higher income brackets ($20,000-$39,999, $40,000-$74,999, and $75,000 or more). However, most of the estimated number of heavy alcohol users and a majority of full-time workers overall (68.4%) came from those groups reporting personal incomes between $9,000-$39,999 per annum. (An Analysis, 2000)
In the summer of 1999, following an 18-month undercover drug operation, police in Tulia, Texas (population of 4,700) arrested 46 people for drug dealing. Of the 46 mostly teenagers and young adults, 40 were African American – constituting more than 15% of the entire black population of the town. 11 defendants were found guilty in jury trials, one is still awaiting trial and the others entered into plea bargains. Their prison sentences were strikingly harsh: many were sent away for 20-25 years, and some received far longer terms amounting to life sentences. Critics have charged the prosecution with targeting blacks, and have strongly challenged the accuracy of evidence used in the convictions. (Town Rocked by Drug Sting, 2000).
HOW CAN WE CONTROL THIS BEHAVIOR IN ORDER TO REDUCE THE HARM?
Finally we would have to examine how we should control this behavior in order to reduce the harm. Likewise, analyze crime control strategies vs. harm reduction strategies and determine which strategies will be the most effective in reducing the harm. According to the article, Poor Prescription : The Costs of Imprisoning Drug Offenders in the United States, measures by which to reduce drug use as well ad drug-related crime are:
Increase the safety of America’s citizens by substantially reducing drug-related crime and violence;
Reduce health and social costs to the public of illegal drug use;
Shield America’s air, land, and sea frontiers from the drug threat;
According to Psychemedics Corporation President, methods to control drug use are widespread. Controls are set in the workplace as well as in the privacy of one s home. Many workplaces use hair strand testing to determine drug use, which would indicate if drugs had been used in the prior seven months or longer. Kubacki articulates:
Psychemedics currently serve over 1600 corporations, many In the Fortune 500, four of the largest police departments, five Federal Reserve Banks, hospitals, universities and others. They have done extensive due diligence on our patented hair test for drugs of abuse and find our method accurate and extremely effective in identifying drug users.
Another means of control as proposed by Vice President Al Gore in his May 2nd speech in Atlanta, mandatory drug testing of parolees. Mr. Gore proposed federal spending of $500 million a year to help states test, treat and counsel prisoners and parolees for drug use. Under the plan, inmates in state prisons — mandatory drug testing already applies in federal prisons — would not be released until they could pass drug tests. If parolees failed the test, which would be administered twice per week, they could be returned to prison (Gore, 2000).
According to Duke and Gross, A drug-free society is no more attainable than a sex-free society. Duke and Gross argue, One way to minimize the harm from drugs is to reduce the number of people who use them. In order to reduce the number of people who use drugs, society must be education and treated without govern coercion. As quotes in the book, The Rich Get Rich and the Poor Get Prison, some form of decriminalization of marijuana, heroin and cocaine would reduce criminalization of law-abiding users, would reduce the need for addicts to steal, would reduce incentives to drug traffickers and smugglers, and would free up personnel and resources for more effective war again the crimes that people fear most. When we look at these ideas, it would seem feasible if drugs such as marijuana, heroin and cocaine were decriminalized, cost would diminish drastically, reducing the number of property crimes committed to purchase these drugs in their illicit state, addicts would probably receive better or less harmful products and would be better able to monitor their dosage. Because we know that a drug-free society will never exit we need to find a way to make the circumstances these addicts face a little healthier. To reemphasize the quote made in a song by the late Tupac Shakur, Instead of a War on Poverty, there is a War on Drugs The point can be taken from this excerpt to be, we as a country, need to focus on the causes of drug use, as well as the underlying social conditions that foster the lifestyle of drug usage. Poverty is one example of a cause, but as statistics have shown, even the wealthy and highly paid will admit to drug use.
Crime Control vs. Harm Reduction Strategies
In order to control drug use and reduce harm we must first determine who is using drugs and who is being harmed. At first glance one might think they are one in the same, but that may not be true. The severity and frequency of harm as a result of drug use falls into two distinct categories. People of color and the poor have a crime victimization rate many times higher than middle-class whites. Neighborhoods on the lowest rung of the economic ladder have been saturated by a combination of drugs and crime (Walker, 2000). Although drug use is widespread, the harm that results falls heavily on the poor and minorities.
Crime control strategies that have been implemented during the past decade are primarily focused drug distribution and possession and the crimes that are associated with them. Although African-Americans represent only 13% of the population in the United States, a disproportionate number of them are represented in the prison population and a large number of those are for drug related offenses.
During the 1980 s, prisons in the United States began to swell with those who were convicted and handed lengthy sentences, especially in states where habitual offender laws had been established. The eventual result of these policies was the early release of many prisoners due to overcrowding. As sentences for crimes lengthened and prison population swelled, money was spirited away from all areas of government spending including higher education.
Violent crime is a severe problem for the United States. The violent crime rate in this country is far higher than any other industrialized nation. Samuel Walker reviews the 1997 University Maryland Report Preventing Crime in his book Sense and Nonsense about Crime and Drugs. The report views crime reduction strategies in a different light by identifying seven institutional settings in which crime policies are delivered. Each of the seven, communities, families, schools, labor markets, crime hot spots policing, and other criminal justice institutions, are closely interrelated. The effectiveness of a crime control strategy depends heavily on the condition of the other six institutions related to it (Walker, 2000).
Conservative theologian James Q. Wilson asserts that criminals lack self control and offenses against society will continue without methods of separating the offender from law-abiding citizens. Wilson believes that effective deterrent strategies must be in place that can effectively steer would-be offenders away from criminal activities. Others in the conservative ideology point to a moral breakdown as the root cause of crime and desire swift, certain punishment of offenders . The problem with this response to crime is that it does not address the persons who have already rejected societal norms and governmental authority (Walker, 2000).
Liberal crime control strategists views crime as more of community wide problem rather than an individual problem. Their strategy points to the need for reducing the social factors that lead to crime such as family, neighborhood setting, economic opportunities, and discriminatory practices. Treatment, rather than incarceration, is the best method for dealing with offenders who have not graduated to the most violent crimes. No treatment programs have demonstrated consistent success (Walker, 2000).
Walker concludes that neither conservatives nor liberals have achieved a universally effective crime control strategy. Each have seized very public examples of criminal situations that seldom occur to highlight their respective points, but these don t reach the root cause of crime and result in no meaningful reduction of crime.
Phil Coffin of The Lindesmith Center studied prison incarceration trends and found as of 1995, there were almost eight times as many people incarcerated for drug offenses as there were in 1980. The cost for housing these 388,000 people in prison facilities was nearly 9 billion dollars. Among those incarcerated approximately 80% are minorities. Part of the difference is associated with the difference in mandatory sentencing for different forms of the same drug. Possession of 500 grams or more of powdered cocaine, for instance, carries a five-year mandatory sentence. Yet, carrying only 5 grams of cocaine in the refined form of crack invokes the same sentence.
This illustrates the racial disparity in the execution of drug laws. The harm experienced by minorities is greater because 88% of all crack cocaine defendants were black while only 27% were found in possession of powder cocaine (Coffin, 1995).
The harm resulting from the fight against drug use extends to all persons in the United States. Currently, billions of dollars spent on enforcement, adjudication, and sentencing related to drug laws. The tremendous financial resources diverted to combat the drug war could be used on social programs that have proven outcomes. The United States is among the richest countries in the world and yet we trail most countries in our educational achievement. The drug offender is removed from society and the costs of his absence are incalculable. His family and children are punished by proxy, and yet the incarceration seemingly has no measurable effect on the problem of drug sales and use in the United States. In fact, arrests for drug related offenses between 1982 and 1998 have increased from 676,000 to 1,559,100 (The Failed Drug War, 2000).
The National Institute of Justice has compiled Research Findings Relevant to the Abuse of Alcohol and Other Drugs and Victimization and has compiled the following statistics:
Of the 23.1 million persons who used an illicit drug in the past year, 1.9 million reported some health problem due to their illicit drug use; 3.5 million reported an emotional or psychological problem due to their drug use; and 4.1 million were dependent on an illicit drug. An estimated 963,000 had received treatment or counseling for their drug use (SAMHSA 1998).
9.7 million people were estimated to be dependent on alcohol, including 915,000 youths, ages twelve to seventeen. An estimated 1.7 million people (including 148,000 youths) reported receiving treatment or counseling (Ibid.).
In 1995, the estimated annual cost of alcohol abuse in the U.S. was $166.5 billion, and drug abuse is estimated to have cost $109.8 billion. Alcohol use disorders cost $56.7 billion more than the estimated annual economic cost of illegal drug use (Harwood et al. 1998).
Alcohol abuse was involved in over 70 percent of substance abuse treatment admissions in 1997, and about half of people entering treatment reported alcohol as their primary drug of abuse (NIJ 1999).
The 1997 National Treatment Improvement Study of addiction treatment effectiveness found a 70 percent reduction in the number of clients reporting problems with alcohol in the year following treatment (SAMHSA 1997a).
Alcohol abuse is currently a larger problem for society than drug abuse in terms of the financial costs to our society. This is disturbing considering that alcohol is a legal drug and more funds are available to combat the problem. Persons who have an illegal drug abuse program must first overcome the tendency to hide the addiction to an illegal substance.
Emphasis should be placed on drug abuse as a health problem, not a primary criminal justice problem. A 1994 report by RAND researchers concluded that the cost of drug treatment is one/seventh the cost of law enforcement efforts pursuing the same goal: ending the use and abuse of illegal drugs. The placement of illegal drug use in the hands of law enforcement has difficulty moving toward harm reduction principles. These principles must include education, sterile paraphernalia programs (to prevent a drug problem becoming an HIV problem), and the facilitation of treatment and patient confidentiality for the drug user (Fischler, 1996).
Drug abuse is widespread and spans every ethnic group, every race, people of different creeds, age and gender. Without a doubt a change is needed. The cost of housing prisoners is $25,000 per year. It seems it would be a more feasible plan to educate and treat these individuals versus incarceration. The criminalization of drugs seems to be doing more harm than good. Our priorities should be the prevention and treatment options available for those in need of the services and law enforcement efforts should be focused on large-scale deliveries rather than end-users. George Soros, a leading advocate for the legalization for drugs, cuts through the myth and hysteria regarding drug use in an article he wrote in 1997.
In the article he points to the destructive consequences of fighting the drug war the way we are fighting it, and proposes a flanking maneuver. His proposal is to treat the drug abuser as you would any other medical patient but leave the occasional recreational user be. The staggering problem with alcohol abuse listed above has one major advantage for the government, tax revenue. If the illicit drugs were made legal, tax revenues on them would help generate treatment resources.
America needs to consider alternatives to law enforcement fighting the drug war .
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