The rise of drug-related crime and fall of the “War on Drugs”
In 1971, Richard Nixon first declared the war on drugs. Since then, $250 trillion has been spent and millions have been arrested. Today, there is a drug arrest every 19 seconds in America. Drug and alcohol offenses account for 80 percent of the prison population.
A quick glance at war on drugs
- The illegal drug market in the U.S. is dominated by 900,000 criminally active gang members linked with 20,000 street gangs in more than 2,500 cities.
- At least 346,605 people are serving sentences in state and federal prisons for drug possession or sales in the U.S.
- In 2009, there were an additional 582,759 adults on probation and 261,666 adults on parole for drug law violations in the U.S.
The “unintended consequences”
America’s “war on drugs” aimed to control drug abuse through strict laws and enforcement. The war on drugs, however, has failed.
The fact that illegal drugs have become cheaper and more concentrated, suggests an increase in the world supply. According to United Nations estimates, global consumption of opiates, cocaine and marijuana increased by 35 percent, 27 percent and 9 percent, respectively, between 1998 and 2008.
Some unfortunate “unintended consequences” emerged as a result, as acknowledged by the Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). He stated:
“The first unintended consequence is a huge criminal black market that now thrives in order to get prohibited substances from producers to consumers. Whether driven by a ‘supply push’ or a ‘demand pull,’ the financial incentives to enter this market are enormous. There is no shortage of criminals competing to claw out a share of a market in which hundred fold increases in price from production to retail are not uncommon.”
Other crime-related costs that emerged as a result include:
- The rise of organized crime and its consequences in terms of money laundering, corruption and violence
- Street-level crime attributed to drug gangs and dependent drug users supporting their habits
- The criminalization and stigmatization of users, and its impact on public and mental health care
- Disproportionate incarceration and crimes committed by governments under the pretense of the drug war. These include death penalties, extrajudicial killings/assassinations, detention without trial, corporal punishment and other forms of degrading treatment or punishment.
- The economic costs of drug war-related crime, and the economic dynamic at play that actively instigates crime. Vast opportunities have surfaced for criminal entrepreneurs
- Violation of human rights, including prison issues and those regarding security and development.
Since the drug war, drug use and related costs have risen faster than any other period of history, even escalating during the rise of the war on drugs in the 1980s. Evaluation of drug law enforcement still invariably focuses on process measures, like arrests and drug seizures, rather than meaningful indicators that might demonstrate failure – such as levels of availability, or health and social costs, including the creation of crime. It is now important to consider the mental health care aspect of this issue and look to implement a more humane approach.
Sovereign Health is a leading behaviorally health treatment provider, devoted to the provision of evidence-based treatment for substance abuse disorder and mental illness. Our aim is to see our patients not just succeed in treatment but excel in their normal lives as well. If you or a loved one is currently battling substance abuse, call us right away.
Written by Sana Ahmed, Sovereign Health Group writer