Many historians would agree that drugs are as much of an American pastime as baseball and John Wayne. Illicit drugs have been implemented into our society without any true trigger event, which is unlike any other cultural phenomenon that the United States has seen in its relatively short national history. At the turn of the 20th century, America increased their policies regarding drugs and the control of illegal substances. In the beginning, it seemed as though the U.S. government’s intention was to control the substances however in the middle of the 20th century and with the initiation of the War on Drugs, U.S. policy changed from containment to abolishment of drugs all together. With the government changing their policies regarding drugs, the effects that it had on the socio-economic atmosphere were, and still are severe. This relatively short article will focus on the collective analysis of how historical government decisions and campaigns assisted in the polarization of American society and limited our economic capacity, as well as instances in which those two subcultures are morphed into a singular entity.
When we state that we will be examining how drugs effect the socio-economic system in the U.S. it’s a loaded statement that many people are most likely confused by. Over the course of this article we will look at certain areas, or groups of people, that are effected by drugs in America dealing with society as a whole, the economy, or both. The first area to examine is the impact that drugs have on health and the healthcare system. In 2008, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) estimated that 7 million Americans older than the age of 12, were depended on or had abused illicit drugs in the past year, compared with 6.8 million in 2007. The drugs that were mostly abused in that survey were marijuana, prescription pain killers, and cocaine. A significant number of Americans who are dependent on drugs will, at one point or another, seek for some type of treatment. According to The Treatment Episode Data Sets (TEDS) there were approximately 1.8 million admissions to state-licensed treatment facilities for illicit drugs dependence or abuse. Although the data suggests that treatments tend to vary by the certain drug dependency, about 900,000 admissions were outpatient facilities. In 2006, the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) reported that 113 hospital ED visits were related to drug misuse or abuse, however only 31 percent of those visits involved illicit drugs. Drugs use and drugs abuse isn’t always strictly limited to the abuser or misuser we often times see family members that experience the results as well. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) indicated that an estimated 2.1 million American children lived with at least one parent who was dependent on or abused illicit drugs, and 1 in 10 children under 18 lived with a substance-addictive or substance-abusing parent.
There are a number of things we can analyze from the previous statistical information provided. First, the impact of drugs on the health care system is essential for the business/economic side of the health care system. We see that by the statistics that the health care system knows that a significant portion of their patients come from something related with illicit or legal drugs alike. Another thing to keep in mind is the drug treatment facilities. These facilities, both residential and outpatient, cost a large amount of money and are rarely paid by the state. If we examine this more closely, it’s clear that although the government puts drug laws and restrictions in place, they are fully aware those laws will be broken and that can allow for treatment facilities, private specialized clinics, and general hospitals to make an extraordinary amount of money on the idea that illicit drugs will be used and abused but by rigging the health care system, our government can earn a quick and easy dollar which is the ultimate driving force behind any national economy.
The health system is certainly effected by the use, abuse, and regulation of illicit drugs but if there is one specific area that should be put under a microscope it would be the impact that illicit drugs have on crime and the criminal justice systems. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), 12.2 percent of the 14 million arrests in 2008 were for drug violations, which is the most common arrest crime category in America. From 1987 to 2010 the total proportion of drug arrests has risen every single year; in 1984 the percentage was only at 7.4 percent. While these statistics may seem relatively small by the looks of the percentages, a study involving 10 European nations combined the total percentage of drug related arrests would only translate to less than 1 percent of the American population. According to the Bureau of Justice Statics (BJS), 20 percent of state prisoners and 53 percent of federal prisoners are incarcerated because of a drug offense. Similarly, 27 percent of individuals on probation and 37 percent of individuals on parole at the end of 2007 had committed offense.
The criminal justice system is extremely flawed when it comes to crime involving illicit drugs. When we look at the data it’s evident that the justice system can be altered in a way that can rehabilitate drug related offenders and save the government money while allowing the police forces to focus more on more serious crimes. According to the United States Federal Register, the total cost per inmate exceeds $25,000 every year. Similarly, since its inception the ‘War on Drugs’ has cost the U.S. government upwards of 23.8 billion dollars. It’s important that the U.S. look at this phenomenon with common sense. There certainly needs to be some type of system in place that can control the distribution and use of illicit drugs but if we simply just cut the spending in half, the U.S. has the potential to reinvigorated its economy, provide a better education for its children, invest in scientific and health research, or even just simply rejuvenate urban ghettos that are being discriminated upon.
Using and abusing illicit drugs by American citizens also hurts the economy and productivity of America, under current policies and regulations. In 2005, about 27,000 U.S. deaths that were ruled unintentional and 95 percent of those were believed to be caused by some type of drug. According to the TEDS data there was an average of 1.8 admissions into state-licensed treatment facilities for illicit drug dependence or abuse between 2007 and 2010. According to the U.S. Justice Department’s annual National Drug Threat Assessment from 2010 approximately one-fourth of offenders in state and local correctional facilities and the more than half of offenders in federal facilities incarcerated on drug-related charges represent an estimated 620,000 individuals who are not in the workforce. Also, according to NSDUH, about 20 percent of unemployed American adults may be defined as current users of illicit drugs. Based on the data from that same study, it is estimated that 1.8 million unemployed individuals were current drug abusers. These numbers are startling but may not be as devastating as some people may be led to believe. The definition of ‘drug abuser’ needs to be questioned when it comes to this study and its result. If the level necessary to be considered an abuser is low enough that it causes no real harm to the employee and the employer, then there should be no action taken. When it comes to the unemployed, the U.S. can use money taken out of the budget of the war on drugs to create programs that can teach unemployed, or even incarcerated citizens a particular skill that will allow them to contribute and be an active member of the productivity and economy in America.
Using drugs is relatively well known among the secondary schooling community, primarily high school and college students. While drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, and even sometimes heroine play a significant role in socio-economic role in America its drugs like Adderall and ADHD/ADD medicine that is prevalent among this crowd. It’s estimated that about one fourth of all college students use type of stimulant that allows them to study longer or focus more. This is a very interesting phenomenon because as the government seems to be trying to crack down on illicit drug use, thee drugs are being prescribed and used more than ever before. The issue here is that we can see that American political administrations focus on the certain substances because they will produce the most money for seizure unlike other substances that aren’t as financially advanced.
Drugs also play a role in things that may not be perceived in the socio-economic realm but are certainly involved when thought about more like the environment. The majority of harm to the environment stems from outdoors cannabis cultivation and methamphetamine productions. Many of the chemicals used to produce meth are flammable and can often lead to fires and explosions. According to the California Department of Toxic Substance Control, they responded to and cleaned up 232 laboratories and dumpsites at a cost of $776, 889, so we can see the toll that all this can have on local economies and societies.
The use and abuse of drugs are not and should not be accepted into American culture and society. It is not necessary for citizens to use and abuse drugs at a rate that will cause harm to those surrounding them. However, the restrictions and laws put in place by the government has done nothing to solve the so called ‘problem’ that drugs supposedly posed to the nation. When we examined things such as the health care system, criminal justice system, productivity and economy, schools performance, and the environment its evident that the policies that have been put in place have not worked but have contributed to the problem. It’s now up to Americans to educate their selves on this issue and elect officials that will change the direction of drug related policies in the United States of America.