Drug use is a social phenomenon. Drug abuse is a social pathology. Ever since man began charting the history of societies and their cultural orientations, there has been a wide understanding that the use of psychoactive dugs by human beings is not only primordial but also nearly universal. IN almost every culture, the use of one or more drugs has remained a prominent feature irrespective of the age of history. These attestations of the place of drugs in societies predominantly appear in texts of ritual, religion, divination, health care, celebration, recreation and even cuisine.
It is therefore not surprising to note the anthropologist speculation that drug use is nothing but a basic human activity. The United States, being a section of the human society, cannot evade the universality of drug use. It has its own historical ramifications of the use of psychoactive substances (Hamid 1998). Intoxication among the Americans has almost attained reference as a fourth drive which operates just as the basic drives of sex, thirst and hunger.
Based on these basic tenets of illustrations, some people have argued that drugs and humans are intertwined in such a way that to out rightly prohibit drugs in the current post modern society seems an ill-advised goal owing to the unattainability of the venture. Thus, it is in the relationship that exists between human beings and drugs, that a sustainable solution to the conflicts that arise between human drug uses can be addressed with the aim of finding a middle ground to the crisis (Hamid 1998).
In the traditional social setting, societies achieved the balanced relationship between drug use and humans by circumscribing rules that recognize that some psychoactive substances are harmful; and thus should be reduced. On the contrary, those drugs that posed no great harm to the society were cherished, in the context of various social behaviors, hence resulting to their permissiveness but with regard to established circumstances (Lewinson et al 2004).
While these circumstances existed to prevent the glorification of these drugs, elaborate customs, belief systems and rituals either abetted their use of helped to create acceptable settings for their use and with extrapolation; the behaviors and attitudes accompanying their use. Drugs in America Increasing numbers of trenchant critics of the drug policy in America have become convinced that the policies aimed at drug prohibition have failed (Fish 2005).
Under the US Federal Policy, alcohol and drug abuse are ranked as the most serious public health problems, even more serious than heart attack, cancer and depression (Lewinson et al 2004). Four out of every five police chiefs have ranked the same issue as topping the chart for community problems, ahead of gang activity and gun availability. Economically, staggering amounts are spent on alcohol and drug use annually in terms of direct medical expenses shared by both businesses and the government, and loss of economic productivity.
The problem of drugs cuts across racial and ethnic boundaries, addiction is widespread, both the old and the young are affected (Lewinson et al 2004). All these factors have led to deep concerns that have served to place the drug problem as a top priority issue in all centers of social, economic and political legislative arenas. With the undeniable failure of the current drug control and regulatory policies, key questions arise as to the future of the drug policy in the United States. Two approaches can be relied on while rethinking the drug policy.
These approaches are linked to overriding American values. The first is the public health approach, or cost benefit approach or the harm reduction approach. According to this approach drug policy debates and legislations are driven by the social and biomedical science evidence that details the effects of each single drug then attempt to weigh the positives and the negatives of prohibition or legalization of each drug. The discourse is then used to propose policies aimed at attaining the best overall mix out possible outcomes.
The result is that the approach will emphasize on the reduction of harm by ensuring that drug users are healthy, drug related diseases are not spread and that the drugs available for consumption are pure. The same strategy will also control the quantities of drugs available for individual purchase, punitively tax illicit substances and employ other measures necessary for the reduction of the negative consequences of psychoactive drugs and at the same time keep the drug black market as insignificant as possible (Fish 2005).
This is the harm reduction approach is congruent to the American values of pragmatism. The other front of the rethinking of the drug policy is the right based or the libertarian approach which supports the legalization of drug use. According to this approach, the private behavior of an adult American citizen should not be the government’s business. The aim of the approach is to maximize individual freedom. People should be allowed to privately do whatever they like so long as they do not directly affect others.
With such an advocacy for maximum freedom in the use of psychoactive substances, the libertarians argue that freedom comes with responsibility and that one should be prepared to privately deal with the negative consequences of drug use. For the majority who use psychoactive substances for recreational purposes without any ill effects, they should be free to do so in peace. For the minority whose use of psychoactive substances is socially viewed as self destructive, they should as well be allowed to the extent that they do not injure others.
In cases, where their use causes injury to others, legislative framework should exist to punish them for such crimes (Fish). This libertarian view is congruent to the American value of individualism. Federal regulation of psychoactive drugs have basically been driven by the belief that only drugs that threaten public health should be strictly regulated hence the list of marijuana, cocaine, heroin, barbiturates, amphetamines and methaqualone. Under the federal Controlled Substances Act lies the federal framework that offers the difference between the permissible medical use and prohibited use of drugs.
It is no secret that due to conflicting research findings, the psychopharmacology and the regulatory enforcement usually conflict and are extrapolated to the wider political concerns. With the predominance of politics, the real issues gradually deteriorate and remain irresolvable (Scott & Marshall 1998; Lewinson et al 2004). Legal drugs like tobacco and alcohol pose serious negative health and social consequences yet the federal antidrug fight is not extended to them.
The only prohibitionist tenet for these legal drugs is the drug use age limit which is also another controversial topic. Taken in perspective, alcohol and tobacco are responsible for 500,000 drug related deaths annually in the United States. Millions and millions of younger individuals are initiated into smoking and drinking each year (Lewinson et al 2004). The result is a growing drug problem that is threatening the very relevance of the current drug control policies.
While the government concentrates the drug war on reducing the supplies, the superiority of reducing the demand of these drugs over supplies cannot be overlooked. Prevention of drug use is central to reducing the demand of these drugs. However, prevention has never seemed a plausible solution in the eyes of the political elite owing to the long term nature of the prevention programs, but if adopted in connection with a comprehensive public health approach, it may be possible to eliminate or greatly the demand of drugs in the long run. Conclusion
Given that drugs attract millions of young Americans who cannot be said to be rational enough to critically analyze the phychoactivity of several drugs, and make a decision based on the balance of positive and negative consequences of drug use, the libertarian view holds little promise for eliminating the adverse social, economic and health related consequences of drug use. The public health approach is better but it can only be made to achieve its core objectives if it takes into account the effects of legal drugs on the American populace.
By diverting resources and attention to the fight of the federally defined illegal drugs, a dangerous level of alcohol and tobacco permissiveness is cultivated. The consequences of such permissiveness are statistically evident and need not be further illustrated. It is not possible to free the American society from drug use, but the harms and benefits of each drug broadly analyzed should drive federal drug policy towards a sustainable reduction of demand for defined harmful psychoactive substances.
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