Punitive Drug Prohibition Term Paper

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Alcohol Prohibition from 1920 to 1933 did not work. There are many parallels from this failed effort and the current laws prohibiting drugs in the United States. Alcohol prohibition was undertaken to reduce crime and corruption, solve social problems, reduce the tax burden created by prisons and poorhouses, and improve the health of Americans. According to research, alcohol consumption of alcohol fell at the beginning of Prohibition, but then it subsequently increased. "Alcohol became more dangerous to consume; crime increased and became "organized"; the court and prison systems were stretched to the breaking point; and corruption of public officials was rampant." Instead of measurable gains in productivity or reduced absenteeism, Prohibition removed a significant source of tax revenue and greatly increased government spending. It led many drinkers to switch to more dangerous substances such as opium, marijuana, patent medicines and cocaine that they would have been unlikely to encounter in the absence of Prohibition.

Just like prohibition on alcohol, prohibition on drugs isn't working. The National Household Survey on Drug abuse conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reveals the following supporting numbers:

An estimated 15.9 million Americans age 12 years or older were current users of illicit drugs in 2001. This represents 7.1% of the population 12 years or older. By comparison, in 2000 the survey found that 6.3% of this population were current illicit drug users. The survey also found statistically significant increases between 2000 and 2001 in the use of particular drugs or groups of drugs, such as marijuana (from 4.8% to 5.4%) and cocaine (0.5% to 0.7%), and the non-medical use of pain relievers (1.2% to 1.6%) and tranquilizers (0.4% to 0.6%).

Among youths aged 12-17 in 2001, 10.8% had used an illicit drug within the 30 days prior to being interviewed, compared to 9.7% in 2000 and 5.3% in 1992.

The number of persons reporting they had ever tried Ecstasy (MDMA) increased from 6.5 million in 2000 to 8.1 million in 2001. The number of persons reporting use of Oxycontin for non-medical purposes at least once in their lifetime increased fourfold from 1999 to 2001.

An estimated 16.6 million persons age 12 or older were classified with dependence on or abuse of either alcohol or illicit drugs in 2001 (7.3% of the population). This was up from 14.5 million (6.5% of the population) in 2000. Of these, 2.4 million were classified with dependence or abuse of both alcohol and illicit drugs and 3.2 million were dependent on or abused illicit drugs but not alcohol.

Not only is the war on drugs not achieving its stated goals, it's costing a lot of money and is doing a lot of damage. The direct cost of the War on Drugs is something approximately 40 to 50 billion dollars per year. In 2001, the federal government spent 19 billion dollars while state and local law enforcement agencies expended another ten billion dollars. And, the United States spends another 10 to 20 billion dollars every year to incarcerate 2 million drug users. Indirect costs of drugs from factors such as crime, disease, lost wages and lost taxes are estimated at 200 to 400 billion dollars per year. Intangible costs are also significant. For example, some experts believe that drug laws are widely disregarded and erratically enforced, which diminishes respect for law and government. Drug laws fund organized crime and corrupt law enforcement and The War on Drugs is accused of tearing apart foreign countries, like Columbia, and communities within our own country.

The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the western world, four times that of the United Kingdom and France on a per capita basis. The inmate population in 1996 grew by 1,849 prisoners per week with one out of every 155 U.S. residents behind bars. A large part of this problem is the incarceration of nonviolent drug offenders. In California and New York, the prison budgets outstripped the budgets for higher education during the mid-1990s. Increasingly, experts are beginning to label the increasing reliance on imprisonment a policy failure, recommending a moratorium on new prison construction, alternative correctional programs and/or decriminalization of drug offenses.

Harm reduction is a set of policy beliefs, stating that people always have and always will perform activities, such as abuse of drugs, that may cause them harm. Therefore, the best method of reducing the harm caused by risky activities should be adopted, rather than an ineffective blanket prohibition of the performance of harmful activities. Those support harm reduction call to end to the War on Drugs and the adoption of tehniques to make drug use safer for those who choose to participate. With regards to drug users, harm reduction approaches focus on the following questions:

How can we reduce the risks that drug users will acquire infections such as HIV, hepatitis B and C. And tuberculosis, suffer an overdose, or develop dangerous abscesses?

How can we reduce the likelihood that drug users will engage in criminal and other undesireable activities that harm others?

How can we increase the chances that drug users will act responsibly toward others, take care of their families, complete their education or training and engage in legal employment?

How can we increase the likelihood of rehabilitation for drug users who have opted to change their lives?

How do we ensure that drug control policies not cause more harm to drug users and society at large than drug use itself?

There are many diverse harm reduction programs for dealing with drug abuse. One is a needle exchange program that makes needles and syringes legally available. Need exchange programs became common in most Western countries except for the United States during the late 1980s to stem the transmission of HIV through intravenous drug use. Abundant evidence points to the effectiveness of these programs and related efforts in disseminating information on HIV / AIDS risks, reducing needle sharing, disposing of used needles, and ultimately reducing the transmission of HIV and other infections by and among drug injectors. In most cities, the rate of HIV infection among those who began injecting drugs since the mid-1980s is dramatically lower than among those who were injecting before needle exchange programs and AIDS prevention programs began. In Australia and the United Kingdom, where needle exchange programs were instituted quickly and widely in the mid-1980s, rates of HIV infection among drug injectors have remained lower than in most other countries.

Approximately one hundred needle exchange programs currently exist in the United States, but varies across the country. Some states including New York, Connecticut, Washington, and Hawaii, now publicly fund and support needle exchange programs. Other states such as California do not support needle exchange programs, but city and county funds support local program. In contrast, New Jersey and New Hampshire do not support needle exchange programs and have actively sought out underground programs for prosecution. There is a ban on federal funding for needle exchange programs. Congress has banned the use of federal funds for needle exchange programs until researchers prove that they reduce the transmission of HIV and do not lead to an increase in drug use. Critics change that this has already been proven, citing a February 1997 report by a committee convened by the National Institutes of Health which concluded that needle exchange programs are a very effective means to prevent the spread of HIV infection and do not lead to increased drug use. The committee recommended that "significant policy and legal barriers must be removed in order for these interventions to protect the population."

Outreach efforts focus on minimizing drug-related harms outside formal treatment settings. These projects may engage drug users in local drug scenes or visit them at their homes and other gathering places. Some employ vans or buses or create drop-in centers. They offer information about safer drug use, provide a link between drug users and social/medical services, often distribute needles and collect useful information about recent drug use developments. Publications are produced in the Netherlands, Australia, England and Germany that contain information on drug induced paranoia, the dangers of particular types of drug use, and services of particular interest to drug users. Other harm reduction efforts seek to reduce the harms that result from the unknown purity and potency of illicit drugs by helping drug users to analyze the drugs they purchase.

Another harm reduction innovation involves informal zoning or official toleration and even sponsorship of low-threshold facilities known as "contact centers," "street-rooms," and "harm reduction centers." These are places where drug users can meet, obtain injection equipment and condoms as well as simple medical care, advice, help with domestic problems and sometimes a place to sleep. Most facilities allow drug users to remain anonymous and provide qualified medical staff. Some even provide a room where drug injectors can consume illicit drugs in a relatively hygienic environment. These are regarded as preferable to the two most likely alternatives: open injection of illicit drugs in public places or consumption of drugs in unsanctioned shooting galleries that…[continue]

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