Reducing The Harm Of America?S Drug Problem

2501 words - 10 pages

The use and abuse of non-prescription drugs has been a problem in America since colonial times. Historically, the reaction to this problem has been the enforcement of prohibition laws and providing total abstinence education. This has resulted in big business in America; according to the United States Office of National Drug Control Policy, the federal government spent $19.2 billion dollars in 2003 on the war on drugs (1). Unfortunately, the abstinence based education and prohibition laws that are incorporated in the war on drugs have been wholly ineffective in slowing the demand for illicit drugs, and have had the opposite effects of driving up demand, street value, and drug-related crimes. The U.S. war on drugs bases its success on a decrease, and eventual eradication of the prevalence of drug use, a goal that has yet to be met. Detroit chief of police Jerry Oliver, in a 2002 interview with ABC news, said “Clearly, we’re losing the war on drugs in this country [and] it’s insanity to keep doing the same thing over and over again” (qtd. in Stossel). As the war on drugs continues to fail and cost this country billions of dollars, it has become clear that a new approach to the problem is needed. By changing the focus from trying to decrease the overall use of drugs to focusing on decreasing the negative side effects (both personal and societal) of drug use, our country will finally be able to make significant steps forward in our drug problem. This approach is known as harm reduction.
     Harm reduction is a multi-faceted philosophy that includes various strategies to help lessen the negative impact of drug abuse on our society. These negative impacts include death, disease, suffering and crime. One of the basic assumptions which harm reduction is based on is “there has never been, is not now, and never will be a drug-free society” (Drug Policy Alliance). Some of the approaches endorsed by harm reduction are science-based, rather than scare tactic education, treatment for drug addicts instead of imprisonment, and the reduction of health risks for addicts still actively using drugs. The programs which have grown out of these ideals will not only reduce the cost of the drug war through reduction of imprisonment and law enforcement costs, but will reduce the spread of diseases associated with drug use such as HIV/AIDS.
     While abstinence based education has become the accepted form of teaching young people about the dangers of drugs, these programs have also drawn wide criticism because of their failure to make any real difference in youth drug use. According to Mathea Falco, “Many schools rely on programs which have not been evaluated, or worse yet, have been found to have no impact. In 1988, a review of 350 different school programs found that only 33 had any valid evaluation data, while just three programs reported reductions in tobacco, alcohol or drug use” (qtd. in Rosenbaum). One of the most...

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