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
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.
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)
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