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Are Anti-Drug Laws Encouraging Drug Use?

Drug laws are very simple: Don’t consume, carry, or distribute drugs. For those who break drug laws, the consequences can range from a metaphorical “slap on the wrist,” to a prison sentence. While drug laws have been established to prevent drug use, many wonder if the efforts are having the opposite effect. To decide if our current anti-drug laws are always benefiting the drug-free initiative, it’s important to look at the progression of policies in relation to reported cases of drug use and crime.

Drug Crime And The Legal System

Drug trafficking is the biggest contributor to drug use and the focal point of the anti-drug enforcement initiative. While possession charges are taken very seriously in the court system, incarcerating the source of possession is the priority. When considering the pros and cons of anti-drug legislation, it helps to look at case statistics:

  • Approximately 50% of current inmates are held in prison for drug-related crimes.
  • Drug offenses have the highest rate of rearrest at nearly 21%, 14% of which were initially arrested for drug trafficking.
  • 33% of defendants in federal court were filed for drug crimes and 77% of defendants were prosecuted in 2006.
  • In 2004, 282,590 adults were arrested for drug trafficking. 201,760 were charged with felonies and 139,210 were sentenced to incarceration. And 28% were sent to state prison to serve their terms. (
  • The average sentence for drug possession is three years.
  • The number of drug law violation cases in juvenile court have increased by a staggering 159% between 1985-2002.
  • Between 1982 and 2007, drug charges have gone up from around 500,000 to over 1,500,000.
  • In 2014, the FBI reports 156,231 arrests for drug-related crimes.

While many of these statistics suggest an increase in drug use, it is more indicative of increased efforts to implement drug regulation in the United States. This is and was the intention of drug laws, but how has this impacted the reported cases of drug use? [middle-callout]

Drug Use Statistics

The “War on Drugs” was first established by Richard Nixon in 1971. Since that time, many trial and error methods were adopted and purged to control the cases of drug use in the United States. Over the past 20 years, the country has founded practical solutions to raise awareness and integrate drug-free citizens from youth. In conjunction with laws and enforcement, we’re seeing significant change in the number of drug use cases:

  • According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), cases of cocaine use have declined in Americans ages 12 and over- from 2.3 million in 2003 to around 1.6 million in 2009.
  • The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reported that 23.5 million Americans were admitted into rehabilitation for drug and alcohol addiction in 2009. That’s over 9% of Americans over the age of 12.
  • According to the Drug Use Warning Network (DAWN), 2.1 million ER visits were related to illicit drug use in 2009. Between 2004 and 2009, the number of ER visits increased by over 98%.

In 2011, the rise in opioid dependence was recognized, prompting a bill to add funding to the national budget for opioid awareness, enforcement, and education. In 2016, President Barack Obama signed this bill in response to the CDC designating opioid addiction as a national epidemic. This step toward regulating drug use, particularly physician-prescribed opiates, is one of many practical methods introduced on the federal level.

Do Laws Encourage Drug Use?

Drug laws are developed to discourage drug use, but it is still apparent that drugs are still a very big problem in the United States. One argument suggests that drug laws are not carried out as well as they should. It is thought that marijuana offenses deserve a larger punishment, as it is widely used in the US. The laws may not directly “encourage” drug use, but it is believed that many people (particularly youth) feel more inclined to try a drug if the implications are less severe.

On The Right Track

Drug use has been a problem in the US long before Nixon declared war on drugs. Many changes have been in effect since then especially with enforcement and regulation of controlled substances. These changes have made an impact on the drug use problem, but statistics prove that there is still much work to do. [bottom-inline-cta]

We Can Help

Anti-drug laws are in place to protect Americans from the devastating effects of drug use. If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, the caring staff at Vertava Health is here to help. We can connect you with resources for recovery and provide helpful information to aid in your journey to sobriety. Contact us today.