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There’s no denying that America’s attitude toward drug abuse and addiction is changing. The U.S. spends more than $51 billion annually on in its war on drugs, and not only has the problem not gone away, many experts believe that this “war” is doing more harm than good.
Here are five reasons why our country’s drug policies are beginning to unravel:
1. Decriminalization – there are currently four states, Alaska, Colorado, Washington and Oregon, that have approved the recreational use of marijuana, not only regulating the industry, but taxing it as well. Another 20 states have lessened or eliminated penalties for simple possession of the drug, and the number of states that now allow the use of medicinal marijuana is 23, plus the District of Columbia.
2. Judicial Drug Reform – harsh mandatory minimum sentence guidelines, many of which were put into law during the 1980’s crack cocaine epidemic, have led to a crisis of prison overcrowding. In 2013, more than 1.5 million people were arrested and sentenced on non-violent drug charges. America has the highest rates of incarceration in the world, with racial minorities bearing the brunt of this problem.
Bills like the Fair Sentencing Act, signed into law by President Obama in 2010, are a result of this issue. While congress is still working on prison reform, some 6,000 non-violent federal inmates are set to be released prior to the end of their sentences this year.
3. New Approaches to Policing – state and local governments are looking for better solutions to the drug problem than arrests and incarceration, which have not worked. Seattle’s Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion or LEAD program is a perfect example, as well as the drug courts springing up across the country.
Innovative and compassionate methods of intervention have proven to be far more effective in battling addiction. While the U.S. government doesn’t currently offer any support for needle exchange programs, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that these kinds of services decrease the incidence of diseases, like HIV, by 80 percent.
4. Accountability – the crisis of prescription painkiller abuse, leading to a surge in heroin use, has reached a tipping point. In 2012 alone, doctors doled out some 259 million opioid painkiller prescriptions, drugs like oxycontin, morphine and hydrocodone. In a first of its kind jury decision, a California doctor, Hsiu-Ying “Lisa” Tseng, was convicted of second-degree murder for prescriptions she wrote to three patients who died from fatal overdoses.
Unfortunately, it’s taken the increase of heroin abuse in more affluent neighborhoods around the country for lawmakers to begin reforming harsh policies. Michael Botticelli, director of the Whitehouse Office of National Drug Control Policy, told the New York Times, “Because the demographic of people affected are more white, more middle class, these are parents who are more empowered. They know how to call a legislator.”
5. Public Awareness About the Disease of Addiction – in what many professionals working in the field of addiction felt to be a seismic shift in the government’s position, President Obama called drug and alcohol addiction a disease that must be treated. In fact, the president set forth an agenda to help people gain a greater access to rehab and treatment facilities.
As new reform policies and initiatives continue to take a shape, such as Medication Assisted Treatment Therapy, there will most certainly be disagreements and challenges along the way. What’s more important is that those among us who are struggling and suffering with the painful symptoms of addiction, in some cases losing everything they have, get the help that they desperately need. Treatment for drug and alcohol addiction works and, with support, victims can rebuild their lives.