Drug Abuse and Our Society Term Paper

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Drug abuse of both legal and illegal substances has a devastatingly negative impact on American society as a whole.

Definition of Drug Abuse

Legal Drugs

Illegal Drugs

Prevalence of Drug Use

Impact of Drug Use

Financial Costs

Impact in the Workplace

Costs of Incarceration

Health-Related Issues


Lost Potential

Family Life

Pregnancy and Health of Children


Alcohol and Traffic-Related Injuries

Initiatives to Combat Drug Use

Legalization and Decriminalization


Drug abuse of both legal and illegal substances has a devastatingly negative impact on American society as a whole. Drug use and abuse are prevalent in American society, and the financial costs of drug and alcohol abuse are profound. Perhaps even more important, however, are the social costs that come from drug abuse. Drug abuse is linked with increased crime, particularly increases in violent crime, and subsequent increases in the cost of law enforcement, legal issues, and incarceration. The health-related costs of drug abuse include HIV and hepatitis from intravenous drug use, and increased risks of HIV and sexually transmitted diseases. Homelessness is also a problem among drug users that can be linked to alienation from their families and high costs of illegal drugs. The family, community, and larger society all suffer form the lost potential of those involved in drug abuse. Family life is perhaps the most directly impacted, as family members often become codependents of drug users. Drug abuse also has an important impact during pregnancy, as the health of the baby can be impacted, leading to fetal addiction, fetal alcohol syndrome, and AIDS. Death can be the immediate result of drug abuse on the user, while traffic-related injuries and deaths are also linked to drug and alcohol abuse. Treatment and prevention are important components in reducing drug abuse. Recently, legalization and decriminalization has also been put forward as partial solutions to the problem of drug abuse in America.

Before investigating the effects of drug abuse any further, it will be helpful to provide a definition of drug abuse. The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition (2001) defines drug addiction and drug abuse as "chronic or habitual use of any chemical substance to alter states of body or mind for other than medically warranted purposes." Similarly, eMedicine.com defines drug abuse as "an intense desire to obtain increasing amounts of a particular substance or substances to the exclusion of all other activities."

Drug abuse can occur with either illegal or illegal drugs. Illegal drugs include marijuana, hashish, heroin, hallucinogenic drugs (including LSD and angel dust), and designer drugs (including Ecstasy), and party drugs (like GHB). When legal drugs such as prescription drugs are used in a way that was not originally intended, they are then considered to be illegal. Morphine is often abused by individuals in the medical profession (The Columbia Encyclopedia, 2001).

Legal substances can also be abused. Legal drugs can include caffeine (in coffee), alcohol, nicotine (in cigarettes, and inhalants (like nail polish, glue, and gasoline). Prescription drugs (like amphetamines, barbiturates, steroids, analgesics and tranquilizers) can be over prescribed or used improperly. Valium was widely prescribed in the U.S. before health professionals realized the potential for addiction. Recently, unregulated (but legal) herbal medicines are contributing the drug abuse, as some of these are psychoactive to some degree (The Columbia Encyclopedia, 2001).

Drug use and abuse is common in the United States. In 1997, 36% of Americans had tried cocaine, marijuana or other illegal drugs. In terms of legal drugs, 82% of Americans had tried alcoholic beverages, while 71% of the population had tried cigarettes (The Columbia Encyclopedia, 2001). Drug abuse is appears among all ethnic groups and social classes (eMedicine.com).

The financial costs of drug abuse are high. Health care that is drug-related cost the United States more than $9.9 billion in 1999 (The Columbia Encyclopedia, 2001), and $12.9 billion in 2000 (About.com). The total economic cost of both drug and alcohol abuse for 1992 was estimated at $254.7 billion. $97.7 billion of this could be attributed to drug use. Governments have the most responsibility for these costs (46%), while drug abusers and their families foot 44% of the bill (National Institute on Drug Abuse). As of 2000, illegal drug use alone cost America $161 billion (About.com).

The direct financial costs of money spent on illegal drugs are also important. According to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), Americans spent $38 billion on cocaine, $7 billion on marijuana, $9.6 billion on heroin, and another 2.7 billion on other illegal drugs or misusing legal drugs from 1988 and 1995 (National Institute on Drug Abuse).

Drug abuse has a negative impact on the workplace (The Columbia Encyclopedia, 2001). In an attempt to reduce drug abuse in the workplace, many companies have toyed with the idea of instituting drug testing. This controversial measure must carefully weigh the right to privacy against any potential productivity and safety issues resulting from drug abuse in the workplace (The Columbia Encyclopedia, 2001).

One of the most familiar societal costs of drug abuse is crime. Many drug users resort to criminal activity in order to raise money for illegal drugs. Burglary and prostitution are well-linked to drug use. Violent behavior is also associated with the use of drugs, and alcohol in particular (The Columbia Encyclopedia, 2001), as drinking heavily is reported to be involved in 60% of violent crimes (Alcoholics Victorious). Of the $97.7 billion attributed to drug abuse in 1992, over half could be traced directly to drug-related crime. This number includes the cost of productivity of crime victims and those incarcerated crime, the loss of production due to "drug-related crime careers"(National Institute on Drug Abuse), property damage, and police, legal and corrections services (National Institute on Drug Abuse).

The fear of drug-related crime is very real in the United States, creating a climate of fear and apprehension that is linked to drug use in America. Kirby Anderson reflects this fear, stating, "In the world of drugs, homicidally vicious gangs compete for market share with murderous results. Many gang members outgun the police with their weapons of choice: semi-automatic pistols, AK-47s, and Uzis."

Drug abuse has important implications for the costs of incarceration and law enforcement. Drug use increases the cost of law enforcement agencies such as the Coast Guard, thus increasing the tax burden (eMedicine.com). In addition, drug use increases the need for Federal drug traffic control, police, legal and corrections services (National Institute on Drug Abuse).

There are a variety of health-related issues that arise from drug use. Sharing hypodermic needles to inject drugs like heroin increases the possibility of getting some types of hepatitis and AIDS. Further, high-risk sexual activity among drug users (either in the form of prostitution or by reducing inhibitions) can also contribute to a higher risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases and HIV (The Columbia Encyclopedia, 2001).

Drug abuse often leads to other social ills such as homelessness. (About.com; The Columbia Encyclopedia, 2001). Given that illegal drugs are expensive, users will often spend all of their (sometimes limited) financial means to get drugs. Further, their drug use can alienate them from loved ones, resulting in a life on the streets.

Perhaps one of the most difficult to measure social costs of drug abuse in the United States is the lost potential of drug abusers. When individuals abuse drugs, society loses many potential contritibutions that person could make to their family, community and larger society (eMedicine.com).

The abuse of drugs can disrupt family life. Drug user can create problems with codependency, where the family helps to enable the user's behavior, often out of love or fear of the consequences of not helping. A number of programs are available to help family members deal with the trauma of drug use. Programs such as Al-Anon, CoAnon, Alateen, and 12-step programs are available for family and friends of drug abusers. These programs aim at helping family and friends of drug abusers to arrest codependent cycles (The Columbia Encyclopedia, 2001).

Drug abuse can have a serious impact during pregnancy. Babies born to women who are drug abusers often suffer from low birth weight. Given that many drugs cross the placental barrier, babies of drug abusers can be born addicted to crack or heroin, and go through withdrawal after their birth. In addition, mothers who drink during pregnancy often give birth to children with fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). Further, pregnant women who get AIDS through the use of intravenous drugs can pass this virus to their children (The Columbia Encyclopedia, 2001).

Death is a very real consequence of drug use in the United States. Each year, over 10,000 deaths can be directly attributed to drug use. This often comes from overdose as a result of uncontrolled purity and dosage of illegal drugs. Cocaine, heroin and morphine cause the most overdoses, often in combination with other drugs and alcohol (The Columbia Encyclopedia, 2001).

Traffic fatalities and injuries are another real consequence of alcohol and drug abuse. In 1988, auto accidents involving alcohol resulted in the deaths of 25,000 Americans, and injuries to…[continue]

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