SOC 2010 Lecture Notes - Methadone, Drug Abuse Resistance Education, Drug Enforcement Agency
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Strategies to Control Drugs
1) Prosecution focuses on placing drug dealers in jail. However, catching them is difficult, and people’s
basic freedoms may be threatened in the process. Additionally, the policy of prosecuting drug dealers
often unfairly punishes the poor and minorities. Mandatory sentencing laws passed in the 1980s are
biased against minorities. For example, possession of 500 grams of cocaine—but only 5 grams crack—
leads to the same five-year jail term. Because whites are more likely to use cocaine and blacks are more
likely to use crack, critics claim that the difference in sentencing reflects not the drug but the drug user.
2) Education – Educational programs try to discourage people from trying drugs in the first place. They
typically operate in schools and target young people. The most widespread program is DARE (Drug
Abuse Resistance Education), which operates in 75% of elementary schools across the U.S. Although
police, school officials, and parents agree on the need to instruct young people about drugs, research
suggests that these educational programs seem to make little difference in drug use over the long term.
3) Interdiction refers to stopping drugs from moving across this country’s borders, via the Drug
Enforcement Agency, the U.S. Customs Service, the Border Patrol, and the U.S. military. These groups
face a daunting task: The United States has 12,000 miles of coastline and 7,500 miles of land borders,
and each year 200,000 ships and boats, 600,000 aircraft, 200 million cars, and 500 million people cross
U.S. borders. As a result, agents only manage to seize a tiny share of the drugs that enter the U.S.
4) Treatment – Drug treatment programs focus on helping people who are struggling with addiction to
kick their habits. In the early 1970s, the Nixon administration expanded drug treatment programs that
offered methadone to treat heroine addicts. These programs simply replaced one form of addiction with
another. Treatment has two significant limitations: 1) there are not enough public treatment programs
to help all those who need them, and 2) these programs do nothing to change the environment that
pushed people into drugs in the first place.
• Not everyone agrees with the idea that government should actively try to stamp out illegal drugs.
Proponents of legalization argue that making certain drugs legal would take the profits out of drug
distribution and take drugs off the street. Even if this approach failed to reduce drug use, advocates
assert that it would still reduce the drug problem by reducing organized crime, destigmatizing drug
users, undermining drug subcultures, and eliminating the need for addicts to commit crimes to pay for
high-priced illegal drugs.
• Most supporters of legalization do not advocate over-the-counter sales of all drugs; marijuana is the
only drug for which full legalization has widespread support. Those who do advocate the legalization of
all drugs often base their arguments on philosophical opposition to government interference in
individuals’ lives (these individuals take a libertarian political stand, which emphasizes the greatest
individual freedom possible).