Opinion: Changing Americans’ Attitudes on Drug Policy

Amanda Alling, Staff Writer

The problem to be discussed here is one that requires a radical shift in not only foreign and domestic policy, but more specifically a deviation in perception of substance abuse. For far too long, we as Americans have viewed the consumption of drugs in a negative light – as a vice. And while undoubtedly drugs can, and often do, weaken societal structures and ruin the lives of individuals, they are also powerless until they enter the bloodstream.

The issue in our current American drug crises is one of not only supply from places such as Latin American, but also – and this is a topic that we as Americans tend to ignore or attempt to wish away – a problem of domestic demand.

The United States is currently the largest consumer of narcotics in the world, and regardless of what the current administration believes, symbolically shunning our neighbors to the south via the construction of some wall along the southern border will not solve our current ills.

So what do we do? How do we “solve” this? There are three current strategies used domestically: prevention, treatment, and enforcement.

Prevention programs typically target elementary aged children, but studies show the methods are largely ineffective. Treatment programs are after-the-fact mechanisms, and have been proven to be the most efficient tool for combating substance abuse. The last element to current domestic drug policy is that of enforcement – targeting users and sellers. However, increased incarceration has not stopped the illegal flow of narcotics.

Leaders of Latin American countries are urging the United States to change the attitude about consumption. In the 2011 report provided by the Global Commission on Drug Policy, former President of Brazil Fernando Henrique Cardoso suggested that there be a shift in global drug policy to treat “drug addiction as a health issue, reducing drug demand through educational initiatives and legally regulating rather than criminalizing.”

The argument for legal regulation maintains that the elimination of the “illicit” term that precedes “substance” would help to reduce cartel related violence by replacing criminal markets with formal ones. However, that in and of itself would not “end” or “solve” our drug crisis– the consumption of hard drugs would still remain an issue.

Decriminalization may end some stigmatization that comes with substance abuse, and governments who try such policies could see an increase in abusers seeking effective treatment.

For the last thirty years, the United States has spent, on average, about two thirds of its anti-drug resources on the supply-side, focusing the war on drugs inside of Latin America rather than domestically. And here’s the kicker: while the budget for supply-side solutions continues to grow every year, demand-side drug policy expenditures have essentially remained stagnant.

There are no easy answers, but at the very least we should rethink our strategy here. It’s halftime in the war on drugs, and our coaches need to make adjustments.

Edited by: Brea Childs

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