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How Pervasive Is Drug Use In The United States?

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Drugs are chemical substances which normally connotes cure for sickness and pain and other discomforts both mentally and physically. It is a common knowledge that majority of drugs are synthesized by pharmaceutical companies from plants, algae, minerals, and animal extracts. The antibiotic penicillin comes from a species of mold. The pain reliever morphine comes from opium which a juice of plant called opium puffy. Diabetic persons use insulin extracted and purified from cattle and hog pancreas. Many illnesses and discomforts can now be easily treated with the use of drugs. Drugs can cure diseases and relieve discomforts because it can change the body processes. History tells us that the inherent properties of drugs to relieve pain and discomforts are mostly discovered accidentally. This is so because drugs to be effective need an exact amount or dosage to be taken in by the body. Unintended effects normally are observed if drugs are used below and over the recommended dose and can result to habit –forming phenomenon or drug abuse.

This is particularly the case in pain relievers, stimulant and anti- depressant drugs. To safeguard the people against the peril of drug abuse, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration or U.S. FDA was created in 1927. Drugs in the market are classified into over the counter drugs or OC and prescription drugs. Those outside the classification are considered prohibited drugs and therefore the use and possession is illegal. It is a common knowledge that it is the tendency of people to try something that is prohibited because they know from experience that they can get high using these prohibited drugs. This is the reason for the drug addiction and abuse phenomenon that is plaguing the majority of Americans at present. It is the end result of prohibition which is the main thrust of the U.S. government‘s war on drugs. If so, then, what should be the alternative move to stop and or lessen the drug addiction problem. and the evils associated with it. Will it be legalization? This paper aims to document the claim Is America a Drug Culture: How pervasive is drug use in the United States? 2 that America is a drug culture and this is the one responsible for the great ills in today’s society.

Furthermore, this paper aims to document the arguments for prohibition against legalization of all prohibited drugs which appear to be seen by a vast majority as the next best alternative. America’s romance with drugs started in 1870 when Chinese workers looking for a better lives work with the establishment of railroad system which became the backbone of American development and expansionism. The Chinese bring with them the practice of smoking opium (dea.org, no date). At first, the racist white Americans ignore the practice but later on as they became familiar with the Chinese laborers, they begin visiting the smoking dens established in insular communities by the Chinese. A number of youth and middle- aged Americans became addicted with opium and then the scale of addiction increased as a number of opium- containing elixirs and cure- all medicines became available. The dea.org. further reported that the American government fear of a full blown addiction by America enacted the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 requiring labeling of all medicines containing opium and cocaine. Opium trade was banned as a result of agreements between U.K., U.S. and China in 1911.

The Prohibitionist stance of America toward drugs was observed in 1914 ( dea.org., n.d.) when the Harrison Narcotic Act was enforced. The act requires everybody involved in sale of opiates and cocaine to register and pay prohibitive tax. However, the doctors and pharmacists pay only the registration fee for the reason that the drugs is for professional practice only. As a result of heavy taxes and imprisonment for non-tax payers, opium and cocaine became restricted drugs. The dea.org. further stated that under the constitution, the government cannot just restrict the sale of the drug as it is against the law, however, the power to tax commodities is a right by the government. America’s romance with drugs according to dea.org. continue with the introduction of cocaine, a Is America a Drug Culture: How pervasive is drug use in the United States? 3 magic drug as the blacks termed it as it makes people feel better although the sickness is not cured. In 1920’s the craze on marijuana was experienced courtesy of the Mexicans.

According to dea.org. (n.d.), during the WW II regime and in the psychedelic years of Vietnam war in early 1960’s, heroin and LSD became the craze. In all of all these drug craze experiences, the dea.org. (n.d.) claimed that the U.S. government sticks to its prohibition stance although it proved futile in arresting the rising number of drug dependent Americans. These waves of drug introduction into the flow of the American society left two overlapping generations exposed to a clear culture of drugs. In the light of the government’s war on drugs and prohibitionist strategy, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy [ ONDCP], ( 2002) revealed that in 2001, about 0.7% of 12 year old reported cocaine use at least once a month compared to its peak in 1979 at 9.9%. The ONDCP further reported that in the same year, marijuana use by 12 year and older kids was 5.4 % compared to 14.2 % peak in 1979. The newsbatch.com (2007) reported marijuana smoking by 12 year and older kids in 2005 to be 40.1 % of the population, 13.8 % used crack, 13.9% hallucinogens, 9.4% inhalants, and 20% of the population ventured on non-medical use of psychotherapeutics. Based from these information, the trend of prohibited drug specifically marijuana use is decreasing in 2001 from its peak in 1979.

However, an alarming trend of about 350% [14.2 % to 40.1%] increase was observed from the survey of 12 year and older kids from 2001 to 2005. The Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring (ADAM) revealed data to support the pervasiveness of prohibited drug use among arrested criminals. The ONDCP (2002), reported that in 1988, Is America a Drug Culture: How pervasive is drug use in the United States? 4 54% of male arrestees from Kansas City and Indianapolis were tested positive for drug use at arrest time while 83% was registered from New York City. Among the adult female arrestees, 44% and 41 % tested positive for drug use at the time of arrest from St. Louis and Detroit respectively.The ONDCP (2002), further reported that in 1999, 50% of arrestees from San Antonio, Texas and 77% in Atlanta tested positive for drug use. In New York City, 81% of female arrestees in 1999 tested positive. During the first nine months of 2001, 51.8% of male arrestees in Dallas, Texas and 77.5 % in New York City tested positive for drugs at arrest time.

The information show that among the criminals arrested, higher drug use was observed from New York City compared to other cities like Kansas and San Antonio in Texas for both sexes from 1999 to 2001. This only prove that the more sophisticated the environment, the higher the tendency of the people to do crime and the higher the likelihood that the criminal is a drug user. From the data provided by Drug Use Forecasting and reported by ONDCP (2002), in 1999, female arrestees positive for marijuana was 9% in Laredo and 39% in Oklahoma City and increased to 27.2% in Laredo and 58% in Omaha in the first nine months of 2001. This goes to show that despite the strict implementation of the prohibition on illegal drugs, the increasing trend continues. Due to prohibition of psychoactive substances like marijuana and amphetamines, the youth in their desire to experience the high they experienced with prohibited drugs turned into over the counter and prescription drugs. Leinwand (2006) of USA Today revealed the term pharming which , “was short for pharmaceuticals, such as the powerful painkillers Vicodin and OxyContin”.

The teenagers in pharming parties take in fistful of tablets and capsules of Is America a Drug Culture: How pervasive is drug use in the United States? 5 prescribed medicines and literally overdosing themselves to get the high feeling. The author further reported that drug counselors all over USA are starting to be aware of this pharming practice. This underground practice is spreading like wild fire and is now a part of the rising misuse of prescription drugs by teens as well as young adults. The author also revealed the practice called trail-mixing which actually is a mixture of a painkiller and cough syrup and other pills taken from the medicine cabinet of teen’s home. The teens also exchange their discovered trail mixes recipes through internet chats and messaging and codify their pills not by name but by colors. The federal drug officials admitted that they are surprised and no preemptive moves were taken to arrest the rising trend in abuse of prescription drugs as their programs focus on tobacco, marijuana and methamphetamine.

Leinwand (2002) reported that Nora Volcow, director of National Institute of Drug Abuse blamed doctors in the proliferation of prescription drugs. Internet pharmacies selling prescription drugs with little or no consultation should be closed immediately. According to surveys, 3 out of 5 teens can easily squeeze in prescription tablets from their medicine cabinets, the author further reported. The very troubling fact is the perception of teens that the prescription drugs are safe because it is being prescribed by doctors. The author also reported that the teens claimed they can easily get high with prescription drugs just like what they experienced with marijuana and crack and the drug is readily available. Moreover, the teens claim that they get high with prescription drugs without inserting needles to their arm. The author reported a case involving a high school teen from Boston who first tasted OxyContin pills from a friend in school. After that, the teen took the pill occasionally to break Is America a Drug Culture: How pervasive is drug use in the United States? 6 the monotony of his daily marijuana habit smoking by crushing the tablet and sniffing it. After his father died of cancer, to relieve him of sorrow, daily, he sniff five 80 mg tablets.

The author reported that the teen claimed that he feels nothing can faze him when he got high with OxyContin tablets. The federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reported according to the author that emergency room admissions related to teen prescription drug overdoses in 2004 is about a quarter of 1.3 million total admissions. Furthermore, the author reported that in 2005 survey conducted by Partnership for a Drug-Free America , about 4.5 million youth or 19% of youth population admitted having taken painkillers Vicodin and OxyContin and stimulants like Ritalin or Adderall for the purpose of getting high. The teens admitted that they are hooked to prescription drug overdosing to get high due to peer pressure, availability is not a problem and they consider it more socially acceptable and descent than taking in street drugs. In the meantime, the pharmaceutical companies continue with their strategies to create new market by discovering new uses of their products and communicating them to customers via television commercials, internet websites and customer mailings.

Leinwand (2002) reported that the pharmaceutical company producing the drugs claimed that 29 million doses of vicodin was sold in 2004 compared to 15 million four years before and OxyContin sold 24 million compared to 15 million in 2000. Considering that the American drug culture was developed with prohibitionist strategy of the government enforced, it is high time to analyze and consider other strategies to help cushion the effect of the drug abuse menace on society. The dea.com (n.d.), reported that under the prohibitionist strategy, the drug addiction is not satisfactorily checked. The author revealed Is America a Drug Culture: How pervasive is drug use in the United States? 7 arguments for abolition of the prohibitionist strategy of the U.S. government. 1. Prohibition violate the laws of the state The federal drug agents arrest people supplying medical marijuana to states where the substance is legal. This act violate the state laws enacted and legally approved by the citizen. 2. The right to privacy by individuals is violated America believe that what they do to their own body is their private business.

What they do in their homes is their own private business and the government has no right arresting people for what they are doing in their private homes. Right to privacy is guaranteed under “ Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” of the Declaration of Independence. 3. Prohibition violates the right to due process The practice of the government in seizing private properties and reselling them the moment one is arrested and a case filed in court in relation to drug trafficking is unconstitutional because the case is still under litigation. 4. Prohibition proves too costly for the tax payers. The total cost incurred by society in 1998 from illegal drug use was about $24.4 billion while the expenses to contain the crime ( court, prison and interdiction efforts) was about $22.5 billon. Prohibition is a costly exercise and waste of money considering the cost. 4. Prohibition was not able to reduce the level of drug addiction Data gathered by the European ESPAD and US Monitoring the Future revealed that Is America a Drug Culture: How pervasive is drug use in the United States? 8 in 1999, Netherlands’ data on 10th grade marijuana use is about 28% compared to 32% in the U.S.

In the 16 to 59 years old bracket in 2000, in the US, 9.5% of the populations are marijuana users compared to only 4% in Netherlands. Much higher user percentage was also observed in US on cocaine, amphetamines, heroin and morphine than Netherlands. The Netherlands has legalized the use of marijuana and all other drugs while the US spent taxpayer’s money to fund the prohibitionist stance and still achieved a much higher user percentage suggesting that the stance is ineffective. The American people were forced to believe the prohibitionist’s philosophy that making drugs illegal must greatly reduce its use. It’s very clear that the prohibitionist solution is more expensive than the problem considering the prisons are crammed of drug abuse offenders, criminality and property destructions still exist, lost productivity of those jailed and most importantly the rights and the constitution is trampled upon. Soft on drug nations like Netherlands have not experienced this drug abuse problem of the US’ magnitude.

If we are to consider eliminating the prohibitionist stance of the administration war on drugs, legalization is being considered in its place. Miron,. J ( 2001) provides an analysis on the merits of legalization: 1. The notion of “forbidden fruit” is gone in legalization It is an accepted fact that when something is prohibited , people normally are more eager to try it than when it is not prohibited. This is human nature. This is the reason why more and more people are disobeying the law because when one did something illegal and not caught and one is benefited by it, the feeling is elevated and subconsciously, one is proud of himself. This forbidden fruit notion resulted to more demand and use of the Is America a Drug Culture: How pervasive is drug use in the United States? 9 illegal drug thus causing an increase in drug abuse problem , increase in its price and encouraging the supplier to produce more products. This explains why under the prohibition stance, drug abuse soars contrary to belief that it will subside. The higher percent marijuana users in US than The Netherlands data justify this statement. This also explains why the supply of illegal drugs under prohibitionist stance is maintained due to the fact that there is an available market to absorb it. 2. Legalization is much economical

This is so because the government will not spend the taxpayer’s money in incarcerating drug offenders, sending them to prison and the productivity losses of the offender will be contained. If drugs are legal, there will be no offenders and there’s no need for the costly war on drugs program. 3. Legalization will definitely reduce the drug addiction problem This indirect claim by Miron,. J ( 2001) is ably supported by the much lower percentage of population using cocaine, amphetamines, heroin and morphine in Netherlands than in US by the European ESPAD and US Monitoring the Future agencies. 4. Legalization will definitely reduce crime Miron, J (2001) under the topic Prohibitions and Crime, 1st paragraph said that “Prohibition increases violent crime by preventing drug market participants from resolving their differences through standard nonviolent mechanisms”. The author further stated that “ Suppliers in legal markets can also use advertising to compete with rivals; this is difficult in a black market, where violent turf battles are one possible substitute”. In a black market scenario, the crimes cannot be resolved in court due to the fact that their identities will be Is America a Drug Culture: How pervasive is drug use in the United States? 10 divulged.

The only left alternative is resolve it through violent means like the cases of murder and kidnapping. In a completely legalized drug marketing, advertising can be done in a legal way thus preventing potential conflicts in marketing aspects. Knowing the arguments inherent for both prohibition and legalization, students can contribute to minimize if not totally eliminate the overdosing of prescribe and over the counter drugs. The students can form associations and groups advocating other students to stop the underground “pharming” practice of others. We are now aware that overdosing prescribed drugs can also result to addiction thus destroying ourselves and most importantly our future and that of our friends close to our hearts. We are now familiar with the evils brought about by the prohibitionist stance of the US government as regard illegal drugs. Our rights and privacy are trampled upon by the government in their efforts to gain success in their stance and gain voter’s recognition and approval. Under legalization, crimes will be minimized but not totally eliminated as crimes is inherent in a capitalist society.

It is true that America is a drug culture as evidenced by the introduction of different pills and drugs of immigrants searching the American Dream thus affecting two overlapping generations. With legalization of all drugs, we can continue the TV advertisements, customer mailings and billboards inherent with the prohibitionist stance but now hailing our desire to stop the war on drugs by the present administration and gradually develop our culture on drugs into a more desired picture as evidenced by the experience in The Netherlands. This may not probably happen within the next decade but the efforts should begin now with our First Step and that is recognizing the evils of prohibition and being aware that legalization is the best and most appropriate alternative. Is America a Drug Culture: How pervasive is drug use in the United States?


Dea.org., ( n.d.). Prohibition in America: A Brief History. Retrieved November 10, 2007 from http://thedea.org/prohibhistory.html Leinwand, D. (2006). Prescription drugs find place in teen culture. USA today [on line]. Updated June 13, 2006. Retrieved November 11, 2007 from http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/2006-06-12-teens-pharm-drugs_x.htm Miron, J. (2001). The economics of drug prohibition and drug legalization. In Social Research [on line journal]. Retrieved November 11, 2007 from http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m2267/is_3_68/ai_80310014/ News Batch (2007). How did our drug policy started. In Drug Policy Issues. Updated January 2007. Retrieved November 11, 2007 from http://www.newsbatch.com/drugpolicy.htm White House Office of National Drug Control Policy [ONDCP].(2002). Drug Use Trends. Retrieved November 10, 2007 from http://www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov/publications/factsht/druguse/

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