In 1971, then President Richard Nixon called for a war on drugs, which consequently triggered a tough-on-crime agenda that still continues to yield disastrous results. Policymakers present at all government levels, thereby setting forth harsh laws and strengthening enforcement actions even for a petty low-level drug offense/crime. However, the worst hit by these disastrous enforcements were the communities of color, as their crimes were seen magnified and made to face discriminatory acts. The need of the hour is to stop seeing these crimes related to drugs as a criminal offense and instead consider it as a case of public health issue.
Effectiveness of Incarceration under drug-related offenses
Every 25 seconds, a person is arrested in the USA for alleged possession of drugs, and ever since 1980, the figures have only tripled, with the highest recording in 2015 – 1.5 million arrests. One-fifth of these arrested people are currently serving sentences for various drug-related charges, while the others are either on probation or parole.
Incarcerating people under various drug-related offenses has proven to be of little help, and in the first few weeks after their release from prison, most of them die due to overdose. During the first few weeks after release, these individuals are 129 percent more prone to overdose death than the general public.
Of all the arrests made in connection with drug-related cases, black Americans constitute 30 percent. In fact, they are four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana-related crimes/offenses than their white counterparts.
Eighty percent of the incarcerated people currently serving prison for federal drug-related offenses are either Latino or Black. This is because these people are six times more likely to be arrested than their white peers, even if the latter is found guilty of similar federal drug offenses.
The economic impact on the government was not so small. Ever since the passage of various laws in 1971, the government has spent $1 trillion on the same. But if marijuana is legalized, the government could save nearly $7.7 billion per year from all those averted enforcement and yield an additional $6 billion in tax revenue.
The Opioid Epidemic
Another worst-case scenario of criminalization of drug use came in the form of medical prescription misuse. In the year 2016 alone, nearly 11.8 million Americans misused the prescription for opioids and heroin. In the same year, 42,249 people died from an opioid overdose.
Another shocking result shows that nearly 80 percent of the worldwide consumption of opioids is by Americans, who account for just 5 percent of the overall population. Further, the opioid epidemic costs the government nearly $504 billion every year in the form of health care costs and justice systems, as well as the economic impact of premature fatalities.
Impact Of Interventions
Many jurisdictions across the country are trying to reduce the harm caused due to opioids by expanding the availability and supply of naloxone, an opioid overdose reversal drug. Further, new supervised injection facilities (SIFs) were made available so that people could inject the prescribed drugs with the help of a trained medical assistant.
The state of Philadelphia estimated that implementing SIFs would reduce nearly 18 cases of HIV, 213 cases of Hepatitis C and can even save as many as 76 lives in a year.
LEAD (Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion)
LEAD would allow the concerned officers to send the individuals to necessary treatment facilities instead of incarcerating them for low-level drug offenses. The model first pioneered in Seattle has proven helpful, and statistics show that individuals confronted via LEAD were 56 percent less likely to be arrested in another drug-related offense. Additionally, LEAD participants were less likely to spend a shorter period in jail and 87 percent less likely to be sentenced to prison compared to the other individuals who proceeded under regular law.
It’s high time to stop the drug wars and legalize the necessary drugs. Further, the harsh enforcement for petty low-level drug offenses not only crushes the individual’s morale but also pushes them to the verge of overdose death once they are released. If you need legal assistance from a drug-related crime, Houston drug crimes lawyer, James Alston will fight for your rights.