Guest Author - Susan Hubenthal
THE BIG PICTURE
Since 1981, the United States has spent billions of dollars on the "War
On Drugs." To whose benefit? Our prisons are bursting with non-violent
prisoners. Many are young people who are addicted to drugs and who need
compassion and treatment. Not incarceration! While more prisons are being
built, our country has earned the title of "World's Leading Jailer." In 1980,
there were 500 thousand incarcerated prisoners; in 1990 over 1 million and
in 2000 an astonishing 2 million prisoners.
Our cities are being destroyed by crime and violence spurred on by
prohibition. By not allowing needle exchange programs the spread of AIDS
and other infectious diseases has become a public health nightmare. Little of
the drug war budget is being spent on treatment even though it has proven,
to be, seven times more effective than incarceration. It makes no sense!
After 30 years of fighting a war that cannot be won, we have become
fragmented, segregated and distrustful of one another. We must join
together, now, to build a safer country rather than a less free America.
Research shows that some kids are told that pot is as bad as heroin are
more likely to experiment with heroin particularly if they tried marijuana
and had few consequences. Many kids feel if they were lied to about
marijuana, then they were probably lied to about heroin and other drugs as
well. The result is, many teens are rebelling against the very programs that
are intended to help them. Government surveys show half of high school
students try an illegal drug, 80 percent if you include alcohol, before
Kids who experiment with drugs and those with substance abuse
problems are often suspended or expelled from school. These are the kids
most in need of help. "Just say no!" has failed to reduce drug use or addiction. The focus should be on the talents and capabilities, not the inabilities, of our children.
We need to understand that drug experimentation is different from drug
abuse, and find ways to help those who have a problem with substance
abuse. Shouldn't the first step toward recovery be the recognition that we
have a problem?
LOKKING AT THE FACTS
The federal government spent $1.65 billion in 1982 on the "drug war",
and in 1999 it increased to $17.7 billion. More than half of the students in
the United States in 1999 tried an illegal drug before they graduated from
high school. The number of offenders under age 18, incarcerated for a drug violation, increased from 70 to 840 between 1985 and 1997. Drug offenders in 1997
made up 11 percent of prison admissions among persons under 18 compared
to 2 percent in 1985.
In 1999, there were approximately 4 million chronic drug users in the
Untied States. An estimated number of those in need of substance abuse
treatment are between 13 and 16 million people. More than 10 million
people a year are NOT receiving it.
Addiction is a disease, a public health issue, not a criminal one. We
need to change attitudes and begin healing our addicted children. Those in
treatment are looked upon as "weak" and often deprived of their human
rights and their families are often shunned and turned away when they most
need support and understanding.
Grieving parents admit they would have done ANYTHING to keep their children
alive. Knowing what we know now, some would even buy illicit drugs for
them, if necessary, to keep them alive until they could seek effective
treatment. Tough love, often, doesn't work, and we have been through the
worst nightmare any parent can experience. Our eyes have been opened and
we have seen the tragedies, the deaths and the grieving parents that drug
related deaths have spewed across the world. It's time to re-think the "War
On Drugs." It isn't working, it never did. We need to change our course and
begin to better understand addiction and it's power over our children.