Social Issues / Illegal Drug Use

Illegal Drug Use

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Autor:  anton  22 December 2010
Tags:  Illegal
Words: 1333   |   Pages: 6
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Illegal drug use and abuse remains a pervasive social issue despite significant efforts to quell its existence. In fact, a recent report released by the RAND Corporation (2005) notes that drug abuse has become such a prominent social issue that substantial increases in prison populations all across the United States have been attributed to the tougher sentences that have been put in place for drug users. With the realization that current social policies toward reducing drug abuse are not working—only serving as the basis to promulgate overcrowding in America’s prisons—there is a clear impetus to examine the issue of drug abuse in a larger social context and determine the necessary social changes that are needed in order to effectively reduce drug use and abuse among the general population.

Current Policies for Reducing Drug Use

As noted by the RAND Corporation, the most notable policy that has been developed to curb the use and abuse of illegal drugs in the United States has been tougher sentencing guidelines for those possessing illegal drugs. Anderson (2004) notes that mandatory minimums for drug offenses began in the 1980s, when the criminal justice system began efforts to stop the crack cocaine epidemic that was sweeping America’s inner city neighborhoods. While the principle goal of mandatory sentencing for drug related offenses was to deter illegal drug use and abuse, Anderson notes that this process has only further marred progress toward reducing illegal drug use and abuse. Not only have mandatory minimum drug sentences become the leading cause of prison overcrowding in the United States, Anderson reports that research now shows that these sentences may actually be responsible for the perpetuation of drug use and abuse.

Examining how mandatory sentencing guidelines have contributed to the perpetuation of drug use and abuse, Anderson goes on to note that when drug users are sentenced to prison, they do not receive the rehabilitation that they need in order to stop using drugs. While some may be able to quit using during their prison sentence, the inability to deal with the long-term problems associated with addiction prompts many offenders to begin using drugs once they are released from prison. What this effectively suggests is that mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders do not solve the social problem of drug abuse. Rather, this policy only serves to further exacerbate the problem by placing the drug addict in a precarious position, unable to sustain long-term recovery. Although some proposals have been made to offer drug rehabilitation services in the prison system, there are few prisons that have the resources to carry out this imitative.

In addition to establishing mandatory sentencing guidelines for drug users, policy makers have also attempted to attack the use of illegal drugs by targeting suppliers. For instance, Thoumi (2005) notes that over the course of the last 35 years, the American government has worked in conjunction with the Colombian government to stop the importation of cocaine into the United States. Sustainable environmental conditions coupled with political and social unrest in Colombia have made it possible for rebels to use cocaine as a cash crop to fund their armies. In order to stop the influx of drugs from Colombia into the US, governments from both countries have worked to dismantle large drug cartels. Thoumi argues that even though efforts to stop drug trafficking have been successful, when one operation is stopped, another quickly begins in its place. For this reason, the flow of cocaine from Colombia to the United States has only increased in recent years.

Analysis of the most pertinent policies that have been developed to combat illegal drug use and abuse show that these policies consistently fall short when it comes to eradicating the problem. Seeking to determine why this is so, one only needs to consider what has been written about drug addiction to see that when it comes to creating policy that will eradicate drug abuse, widespread social change is needed. In short, the current policies that have been developed to stop drug use and abuse are nothing more than stopgap measures that will not effectively reduce this social problem over the long-term.

The Nature of Drug Use, Abuse and Addiction

Critically reviewing what has been written about the causes and nature of addiction, research demonstrates that there are a host of social, psychological and biological variables that can contribute to the onset of addiction. Betz, Mihalic, Pinto and Raffa (2000) make the central argument that any event or condition that leads to a lack of dopamine in the brain can serve as the basis for the development of drug addiction. These authors maintain that a lack of dopamine in the brain can promulgate the individual to search for comparable substitutes that either stimulate dopamine production or replicate the physical effects of dopamine release in the brain. What this effectively suggests is that the process of addition is one that stems from a biological need. However, what makes the issue of addiction so difficult to mitigate is that the biological need for dopamine can be caused by a host of physical or psychological issues that are often out of the control of the individual.

To illustrate this point, one needs to consider what happens to the individual experiencing some degree of trauma; for instance the homicide of a loved one. In this case, psychological trauma can lead to a cascade of biochemical changes in the brain, over which the individual has no control. If levels of dopamine are affected, the individual many find that alcohol or drugs provide the biological substitute needed to replace the effects of dopamine. Unfortunately, over the course of time, the use of drugs as a substitute to enhance brain chemistry serves as the basis to permanently alter it. As a direct result, drugs once used for improving mental health have a significant impact on destroying it (Abramovitz, 1999).

Toward New Social Policy

With the realization that drug addiction can occur as a direct result of mental health issues, it is evident that if policy makers want to eradicate this problem, social infrastructure that supports the development of positive mental health is a plausible method to achieve this goal. Using a tightly knit web of mental health services in place to help individuals suffering with trauma, depression, and other significant life issues, society will be able to stop drug abuse before it even starts. This is because society will be able to help individuals deal with their problems before illegal drugs are needed to resolve the problem.

Although the solution to this issue appears to be quite straightforward, there are a number of barriers to implementation. For example, the cost of providing comprehensive mental health and support services to all US residents would be overwhelming. In order to pay for such a program, the government may have to consider either raising taxes or eliminating other vital social service programs. This is perhaps the most pertinent reasons as to why such a program has not yet been developed and implemented. Even though the costs are quite exorbitant, one cannot help but wonder if the costs of implementing such a wide spread social program would eventually justify the costs. Billions of dollars are spent each year to investigate, arrest and prosecute drug dealers. If these billions were used on social programs, such as mental health services, over the course of time, society would notice considerable cost savings. However, until policymakers are willing to make such a bold move to stop drug use and abuse, it is evident that this practice will remain a pervasive social issue; one that simply cannot be resolved by current policy.


Abramovitz, M. (1999). Addiction. Current Health, 26(1), 26-30.

Anderson, G.A. (2004). Hospitality to strangers. America, 191(16), 10-13.

Betz, C., Mihalic, D., Pinto, M.E., Raffa, R.B. (2000). Could a common biochemical mechanism underlie addictions? Journal of Clinical Pharmacy & Therapeutics, 25(1), 11-20.

Just cause or just because. (2005). RAND Corporation. Accessed January 26, 2006 at:

Thoumi, F.E. (2005). The Colombian competitive advantage in illegal drugs: The role of policies and institutional changes. Journal of Drug Issues, 35(1), 7-25.

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