America is currently in the grips of a drug epidemic, with the most recent research suggesting that not only are the rates of drug abuse on the rise, the number of people dying as a result of drug use is also on the increase. According to the latest statistics from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the use of illicit drugs (as well as the excessive abuse of tobacco and alcohol) costs our national economy in excess of $700 billion every year as a result of costs that are related to increased crime levels, lost work productivity, and the costs of relevant health care. Of that figure, $193 billion per annum is as a result of the use of illicit drugs.
The effect of this drug abuse across the nation is tragic. In 2009, 1 in every 3 individuals who died in a car crash tested positive for having some form of illicit drugs in their system. Drug abuse (either of illegal drugs or misuse of prescription drugs) has also played a part in a large number of the mass shootings that have tragically occurred across the nation in the past three years. Innocent people are dying as a result of the drug abuse of others. The question is, what can we do about it?
What Are Our Options For Change?
Our national expenditure is already stretched, thanks to the strain being placed on it by this drug abuse. Many people, therefore, are rightly opposed to the idea of increasing the amount of governmental funding for drug addict support (i.e. rehabilitation programs and harm prevention programs). However, our reluctance to increase our support could actually be short sighted: Would changing our approach to dealing with drug addicts yield better results? Is there a better model we could follow that might prevent the huge amount of unnecessary loss of life that occurs across the nation as the result of drug use each year?
There are examples of countries that have overcome significantly worse drug epidemics than our own. Just twenty years ago, Switzerland had the largest open illicit drug market in the world in conjunction with the world highest rates of addiction, drug overdose, and HIV. However as a result of huge changes to governmental policy and a policy focus on overturning the epidemic, those rates within the country are now at an all-time low: significantly lower than both America, and most of the other countries in Europe too. What the Swiss government did is easily replicated across the United States, although there are financial implications that many find very difficult to digest. Firstly, the Swiss government ensured that medically assisted rehabilitation was available to all drug users, meaning that 75% of heroin users in the country are currently being supported by some kind of rehabilitation programme. They also ensured that their drug users were housed: 90% of drug users in Switzerland have housing leaving only 10% homeless. Research has shown that having a roof over your head makes it much easier to battle addiction than being homeless. They also focused on a different form of drug prevention: in the United States we use the DARE program to try and scare kids away from taking drugs. A more pragmatic approach is taken in Switzerland, where it is recognized that most individuals try some form of drug at least once; therefore their drug prevention programs also focus on preventing one off individual drug use from turning into a habit, and so far this technique has been massively successful. Finally, whilst drug use remains illegal in Switzerland (as most sane people believe it should in the United States), law enforcement takes a case by case approach to dealing with it, ensuring that as many illegal drugs are taken off the streets as possible, and that dealers and large perpetrators are punished, whilst simultaneously protecting all members of society, including those drug dealers themselves. This pragmatic and human-based approach has increased trust of the police amongst the drug taking community and means they are more likely to be cooperative in helping to get large amounts of drugs off the streets.
Whilst not all of these drug reduction methods are viable within the much larger country of the United States, a discussion around these issues is long overdue. There is currently a war raging in our Nation about our rights to bear arms. However what many in the anti-gun lobby fail to recognize is that many of those mass shooters causing so much chaos and heartbreak are actually users of illegal or illicitly obtained drugs: perhaps rather than focus on the rights of ordinary, honest, non-drug taking Americans to own their own guns as a solution to the rise of mass shootings, we should focus on the epidemic of drug use in our nation, and solve what is the real crisis instead.
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