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The High Cost of Drugs and Crime

One of the defining issues facing society right now is the high cost of drugs and crime.  And the cost isn’t entirely financial.  The cost in ruined lives and broken dreams cannot be calculated.  But, it’s a very high cost to those who bear it and to the innocent victims who suffer from the fallout.  Solving the drug problem, or at least limiting its damage, is the key to a brighter future for everyone.

A Vexing Global Problem

Anti-Drug Poster circa 1936
Image by Marxchivist

Drugs have been used for thousands of years in places like Egypt, China and the middle-east.  But, they started to become a huge problem after the Chinese became addicted to opium in seventeenth century.  This led to the Opium Wars in the 1839 and 1858.  By 1905, more than a quarter of the male Chinese population were regular users of opium.  China initiated a War on Opium, which ultimately failed.

Drugs, the related criminal activity and the costs to our society are issues that have been difficult to solve.  And, the ensuing “War on Drugs” in America doesn’t seem to have made much progress in combating this global problem.  The demand for illegal drugs have fueled violent drug wars on the streets and in countries that produce and traffic the drugs.  Currently, Mexico is paying a heavy price, with the murder rate exploding in the past couple of years.

Costs to the Nation

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) in 2009 about $2.28 million people were incarcerated and another 5 million were under correctional supervision (parole or probation).  This is a slight decrease from 2008.  But, it’s still a lot of people.  In 2007, Federal, State and local governments spent a combined $227 billion dollars for law enforcement.  That’s more than the Federal government spent in 2007 for commerce, energy, education, HUD, homeland security, NASA, transportation and veterans combined.  Justice costs around $756 each per year, for every person living in the U.S.

In my opinion, the escalating presence of law enforcement and the stiffened penalties to combat drugs aren’t an effective solution by themselves.  Only by reducing the demand for drugs can the tide be turned.  How can we reduce the demand for drugs?  I wish I knew.  It’s a complex problem, with many root causes.  There is no single solution that has proven effective in stemming the demand, including education.  In the end, some people are simply going to do whatever they want.  No law or deterrent is going to stop them.

Personal Costs

The personal cost to millions of Americans is a lot harder to quantify.  The lost wages, fines and lack of opportunity don’t show up in government statistics.  Some people recover quickly from the affects of drugs, while others spend their entire lives fighting addiction.  Friends and family are powerless to help them, often becoming the victims of their latest charade to obtain drugs.

At my last job, I worked with a lot of people who were recovering.  Their lives revolved around taking drug tests and working dead-end jobs to stay out of jail.  Every couple of weeks, the marshals would come in and escort one of our employees off to jail.  A few people were in college, trying to climb out of the hole they were in.  Others were still trying to play the game, staying one step ahead of the law, until their luck ran out.  It all seemed pretty senseless to me.  But, I never had to struggle with these kinds of problems.

My Take on the Situation

I believe the Justice Department should recognize the states’ rights to legalize Marijuana and concentrate on harder drugs like Heroin, Cocaine and Methamphetamine.  I believe most of the criminal activity surrounding Marijuana is related to the profit, not the drug itself.  In other words, people aren’t likely to break into a house or rob a liquor store to buy pot.  But, the criminal enterprises that traffic the drug will kill to protect the millions in profit.  There is a direct historical parallel to alcohol and prohibition.  Once alcohol became illegal, vicious criminals started supplying booze, instead of the corner pub.  Prohibition didn’t reduce the number of people who drank alcohol.  It just turned ordinary people into criminals.  We should have learned our lesson the first time.

In my opinion, the new pushers of our age are pharmaceutical companies.  I’m not a medical doctor, but it seems to me that certain classes of drugs, such as pain killers and anti-depressants, are way over-prescribed.  The dependency problems and criminal activity surrounding prescription pain killers are well known and documented.  And, there are a lot of deaths and overdoses from prescription medicines, often by teenagers who steal them from adults.  Most reprehensible are the thousands of TV commercials encouraging people to “ask your doctor” for prescription drugs.  These commercials used to be illegal in the U.S until a few years ago.  They should be banned, just as they are in almost every other industrialized nation.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is that drugs are a vehicle for profit.  They quickly redistribute wealth from the user to the supplier.  Whether the substance is illegal, such as meth or heroin, or the substance is sanctioned, such as tobacco, alcohol or Oxycontin, the game is the same.  The only difference are the players.

“Drugs are a waste of time. They destroy your memory and your self-respect and everything that goes along with your self esteem.”

Kurt Cobain – Lead Singer of Nirvana (1967 – 1994)

Recommended Reading

Five Cent Nickel – Inflation and the Billion Prices Project
Wealth Informatics – Biggest Money Mistakes We Made
The Lookout – Global Leaders Call for a Major Shift to Decriminalize Drugs

13 comments to The High Cost of Drugs and Crime

  • I agree with you. Some brave police will tell you that the criminality associated with drugs is due to the illegality not the drug itself. Al Capone made Gin, ol ladies drink gin, and he was the signature gangster.

    They government should implement the same policy with drugs as they have with tobacco, which has actually worked really well. Smoking rates in the west are down from clost to 80% of adults to 10% in Australia. Legalize but tax the heck out of it.

    • Hi Ben,

      I believe some drugs are very different from others. Drugs like pot are obviously only affecting the users. But, drugs like meth, crack and heroin create a lot of crime and victims in their wake. Plus, they create a lot of legal and medical costs for the state. They are almost like a plague when they hit.

      • Me and some friends were discussing drug use, and we came to a question of renting, maybe you could help me out with it. I thought if a person was raided in a home if they were renting or owned it, if they were raided and were caught with a controlled substance, that they were not able to rent the same place. Are you aware of any legal rules such as this one. Your help would be appreciated. Thank you in advance Laura

        • Laura,

          Honestly, I have no idea. Most of the laws on renting are state and local statutes and they vary from place to place. I have never heard of such a law and am not sure it would be constitutional here in the states. Even if a place was raided, that’s not the same as proving someone guilty. I’m pretty sure the landlord wouldn’t like it though and may kick out the tennant.
          Bret recently posted..The Secret to Success for Working StiffsMy Profile

  • I used to work in Needle Exchange, i’m not sure if there’s something similar where you are. Basically the Australian governement gives addicts clean free needles, and provides a place to dispose of dirty needles without fear of prosecution. The theory is that they’re either going to die or get clean and if they get clean you don’t want to have to treat them for HIV or hep c. HIV and hep c rates have dropped dramaticaly in the injecting drug community from 85% of addicts to approximately 12%. It’s also gotten rid of the problem with needles left in streets or parks because it’s no longer illegal for them to carry dirty needles and there fore they don’t need to dump them asap.

    In my time in the exchange I met many recreational heroin users who might inject once a month or something, some of them are professionals accountants and lawyers. Blew my mind. Up until this time i thought you were either a junkie or not, trust me there’s a spectrum.

    Street heroin and meth controlled primarily by Bikies is the major problem here.

    • I believe we do have something similar for needle exchange, but it’s not country-wide. It’s just in certain areas. Meth was a huge problem for us and it continues to be. Heroin has become more common since we kicked the Taliban out of Afghanistan. I guess there are always unintended consequences to every action. Here in the U.S. most of our bikers are Accountants and professionals. The drug trade is mostly controlled by the Mexican Mafia.

  • Florida just passed a law making it mandatory for people on welfare to be drug-tested before they get any welfare benefits, which I think is a great idea. Perhaps it will inspire more people to stop doing drugs — and start improving their lives.
    Paula @ AffordAnything.org recently posted..Elmo Says- Save!My Profile

    • I think it’s a great idea. I’m not a big fan of government intervention in our private lives. But, I believe taxpayers have a right to ensure welfare assistance isn’t being squandered on drugs. It will be interesting to see how it affects the recipients. I wonder what percentage will test positive. And, of those, I wonder how many will quit the drugs versus giving up the welfare money. And, what happens to the kids the money is supposed to be supporting? Do they go without? Or, does CPS get involved?

  • I am not a supporter of drug use nor a drug user except for the occasional caffeine and alcohol.

    That said, few things can be more retarded than throwing someone in jail for a victimless crime.

    There’s three assumptions here: one, that the drug is harmful, and two, that punishing people is the best way to help them, and three, there are “good” drugs and “bad” drugs.

    I agree that some drugs are harmful, and under certain circumstances (a pregnant woman using drugs including the legal ones, or second hand smoke) where harm can be done to others, it makes sense for there to be deterrence and punishment.

    When a person isn’t harming anything but his own body however, it’s solely his/her choice.

    Besides that, alcohol and tobacco (for example) have done much more damage than any other drug. How many die in DUI-related crashes? How many families have been wrecked by alcohol abuse? The drug war is hypocritical at best.

    The only solution as I see it is one of humanism and understanding — understand why people get addicted, and helping them get off of that addiction. At the same time, we need to respect a person’s right to their own body.

  • Kevin,

    Some drugs definitely create victims, beyond the users. Many people who use meth and heroin steal to support their habit and that’s a fact. Any community struggling with these drugs knows this all too well.

    I live in a really nice neighborhood, but then some guy setup two halfway houses. Soon, everyone’s cars and houses were getting broken into, including mine. We succeeded in getting these houses closed down and the crime went away with them.

    I’m all for drug treatment, instead of automatically throwing everyone in jail. But, there is a huge criminal element related to drug use. And, addicts have to want to recover, or else it’s a waste of everyone’s time and money. Some people must be thrown in jail to protect the public.

    • Hi Bret,

      Sorry to hear that you guys had to go through that. In that case I agree that they had no right to impose their externalities on you.

      I’d rather these meth and heroin addicts have the option of going to a regulated and legalized store where they can get help, or just feed their addiction if that’s what they choose. It’s still a much better alternative than what we have today, with all profits and rewards going to the criminals.

      I also don’t see how it makes any sense at all to make, say, marijuana illegal when alcohol and tobacco are legal and have imposed far more costs on society than any illegal drug. If there’s merit to making any drug illegal, it should be on the basis of harm done to others.

      Right now we’re rewarding criminals by making it lucrative for them to enter the drug trade. It’s just Prohibition, but not for alcohol this time around. It’s still just as wrong as Prohibition was back in the day and it causes more damage overall.

      Personally I go for self responsibility. There is absolutely no valid reason to prohibit people from doing with their own bodies as they please. When they start stealing from others then yes, throw them in jail, and if someone wants to open up a drug shop where others will have to suffer from the externalities, then no, that shouldn’t be allowed any more than an alcohol distillery should be allowed to open up shop right in the middle of a suburb.

      However, we all lose as a society from rewarding the criminals by providing them with a profitable and lucrative trade. We could push this industry into the light where we will have much more visibility into what’s going on and where we can treat everyone, addict or otherwise, much more humanely than we do today.

      • Kevin,

        The halfway houses were really frustrating. The guy who was running them for-profit, lived accross town and put them in our neighborhood. Instead of hiring competent supervisors, he let the addicts run their own house. So, they were up all night swiping everything that wasn’t nailed down. It took a lot of complaints to the police to get them shut down. We are glad they are gone.

        Marijuana is essentially legal in California and many other states. Anyone can get a perscription and buy it from a dispensery. The Federal Government (DEA) raided some dispenseries a couple of years ago, but they had to back off. Pot isn’t a controlled substance and it wasn’t being sold across state lines. So, if it went to the Supreme Court, they would most likely rule the Feds have no jurisdiction. That would seriously undermine their authority.

        I completely agree with your statements about rewarding criminals for entering the drug trade. This is obvious from the street corners, to the prisons, to the cartel countries suffering from the fall-out. There is so much money involved, we won’t be winning the war on drugs from enforcement alone. Not a chance.

        Bret
        Bret recently posted..The High Cost of AutomobilesMy Profile

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