The War on Drugs: Increasing Incarceration and Drug Consumption
The War on Drugs has increased incarceration and has not decreased illicit drug consumption and distribution in the United States of America. Statistics, laws, and theories have been linked to support that incarceration and drug consumption have both increased in the United States of America. Although many laws have been enacted in order to decrease the use and distribution of illicit drugs, drug overdose is the number one cause of death in the United States of America(Mack, Jones, & Ballesteros, 2017). The War on Drugs has been ongoing since the presidency of Richard Nixon and yet it’s efforts are supported to be unsuccessful by the statistical data included in this research. The War on Drugs has set goals and enacted laws that reinforce the incarceration of people involved in illicit drug use and distribution(United States. Drug Enforcement Administration., 2019). This research is a desperate cry for insight to the growing epidemic of drug use that has taken too many American lives, in order to find a more effective solution than the War on Drugs.
The War on Drugs has increased incarceration and has not decreased illicit drug consumption and distribution in the United States of America. The new severity of laws regarding the War on Drugs has not helped the issue of the illicit drug epidemic but instead has filled our prisons while the epidemic spreads. This research is a compilation of statistics, theories, and laws that support the ineffectual War on Drugs. A counterargument against these findings is that the concept of the War on Drugs has no been very well defined. However, if the broad definitions of this campaign have been specific enough to enact such great changes and laws in the United States of America, then why shouldn’t an analysis of the War on Drugs be allowed to operate on a similar basis? The references used to accumulate this research are peer-reviewed and have been published within the last five years, to ensure that the most up to date and fact-checked information has been included.
Illicit Drug Consumption and Distribution
In 1973, the United States. Drug Enforcement Administration was founded after President Richard Nixon declared the War on Drugs(United States. Drug Enforcement Administration., 2018). The War on Drugs had been officially started by the enactment of the Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act in 1970(United States. Drug Enforcement Administration., 2019). According to a study done by the CDC which compared the rates of metropolitan and nonmetropolitan drug use and overdose in the United States, drug overdose is now the most common cause of death in the United States(Mack, Jones, & Ballesteros, 2017). The article about this study called “Illicit Drug Use, Illicit Drug Use Disorders, and Drug Overdose Deaths in Metropolitan and Nonmetropolitan Areas—United States” set out to present the research on whether metropolitan or nonmetropolitan areas experience higher rate of drug use and drug overdose-related deaths. From 2003 to 2014, depending on the metropolitan or nonmetropolitan status of the area, we saw from a 13.7% to a 21.7% increase in overall drug use in America(Mack, Jones, & Ballesteros, 2017). In the research of “Illicit Drug Use, Illicit Drug Use Disorders, and Drug Overdose Deaths in Metropolitan and Nonmetropolitan Areas—United States”, it was found that metropolitan areas had higher rates of illicit drug consumption compared to nonmetropolitan areas, while illicit drug-related overdose deaths in nonmetropolitan areas has surpassed the numbers of overdose death in metropolitan areas. (Mack, Jones, & Ballesteros, 2017). However,
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According to the United States Drug Enforcement Administration’s 2018 National Drug Threat Assessment, the largest sources of illicit drug distribution are Jalisco New Generation and the Sinaloa Cartels, as well as the local and national street gangs of the country(United States. Drug Enforcement Administration., 2018). The War on Drugs began in 1973, which is when the United States of America Drug Enforcement Administration was founded. This campaign has been ongoing for the past 46 years and new projects of the campaign are still being employed to fight the War on Drugs. Although we have made great strides in the fields of medicine and science, we still rely on the laws the United States enacted in 1970 which dictate drug classes.
Racism is a theme that was extremely prevalent in this research. It cannot be denied that there is evidence that supports that racism affects incarceration rates in any scenario, but especially regarding illicit drug-related crimes. Caucasians and black Americans have about the same rate of illicit drug use at around 7% per ethnicity, yet black American men are 13 times more likely to be incarcerated for drug-related charges than caucasian white American men(Moore & Elkavich, 2008). However, Lisa Moore and Amy Elkavich have suggested, it one may also argue that the local law enforcement of metropolitan areas possess the mentality of eliminating and removing those who are assumed to have an association with drug use, which is harder to profile in a metropolitan area. Unfortunately, it seems that the metropolitan law enforcements seems to attribute drug use and distributions with minorities although we have the aforementioned statistics to support there is no relationship between illicit drug consumption and distribution with minorities, the relationship instead lies between minorities and incarceration.
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Fornili’s research uses the Critical Race Theory created by Delgado and Stefancic to counter and explain the most common uses and forms of racism. The first topic that Critical Race Theory addresses is “ordinariness”(Delgado & Stefancic, 2017). This initial topic of Critical Race Theory, as outlined in “Racialized Mass Incarceration and the War on Drugs: A Critical Race Theory Appraisal”, goes on to argue that just because racism is unfortunately considered commonplace, that fact in itself does not justify it(Delgado & Stefancic, 2017). The Second portion of Critical Race Theory revolved around the “almighty dollar”. Racism financially benefits those who are in the majority race(Delgado & Stefancic, 2017). The third concept of Critical Race Theory is labeled “Social Construction” and reminds us that there is no such quantifiable nor quantitative set of rules that can categorize race, and as such, the labels of race may be changed and manipulated in order to benefit the describing party(Delgado & Stefancic, 2017). The fourth part of Critical Race Theory is “Differential Racism” which follows similarly that different races may be racialized according to the agenda the benefits the majority, meaning that one race may be target at one time but another race will be targeted at a depending on the intentions of the oppressor(Delgado & Stefancic, 2017). “Intersectionality” is the fifth part of Critical Race Theory which states that although race may be used as an identifying factor, other identities may conflict with this use of categorization in explanation, such as sexuality, gender, being primarily more than one race, etc(Delgado & Stefancic, 2017). The final part of Critical Race Theory is the “Unique Voice of Color” which dictates that minorities may reference personal experience regarding racism, while majorities may not, due to the lack of personal experience(Delgado & Stefancic, 2017). Using Critical Race Theory and applying it to the research included in this review is helpful to understand how racism has been a monetized, legalized, and institutionalized tool in the War on Drugs. In prison, racism is seen as commonplace and necessary for survival, minorities have been pitted against each other for the financial benefit of the majority, which the other identities of these people are not taken into consideration.
According to Lisa Moore and Amy Elkavich’s research presented in “Who’s Using and Who’s Doing Time: Incarceration, the War on Drugs, and Public Health.”, the rate of people incarcerated in the United States has increased five times its previous amount while the rates of crime and drug use have not de-escalated since 1972(Moore & Elkavich, 2008). The usefulness of this increase of incarceration should be in question. As Kerem Cantekin and Ceyhun Elgin go on to discuss in “Incarceration and Labor Market Conditions of the Underclass in the United States: An Empirical Investigation”, the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world compared to other countries. As a country that has coined itself as the “Home of the Free”, the United States of America falls short. According to Fornili’s research in the article “Racialized Mass Incarceration and the War on Drugs: A Critical Race Theory Appraisal”, the true start to the War on Drugs and its connection to racism can be traced all the way back to the implementation of the War on Crime campaign as well as the Law Enforcement Assistance Act. Both the War on Crime as well as the Law Enforcement Assistance Act reinforced and increased police surveillance and presence in low-income cities(Fornili, 2018). Fornili also found that regardless of the same rates of speeding while driving between Black Americans and Caucasian Americans, 73% of stopped drivers, as well as 81% of drivers forced to have their vehicles searched, are Black Americans(Fornili, 2018).
Illicit drug use and the overdose deaths related to illicit drug use have increased since the War on Drugs has begun(Mack, Jones, & Ballesteros, 2017). Black Americans have a higher rate of incarceration for drug-related crimes than Caucasian Americans regardless of the virtually equal rates of illicit drug use between both ethnicities(Moore & Elkavich, 2008). Incarceration has increased as a result of the War on Drugs but has had many harmful ramifications to families, communities, and the country as a whole. These conclusions have let to the reinforcement of the idea that a better solution must be found to fight the illicit drug epidemic in the United States, as the War on Drugs is not working. Solutions that have been effective for other countries must be taken under consideration, such as a stronger focus on the rehabilitation of people addicted to drugs, including those that self medicate because they suffer from otherwise untreated mental illnesses. Finding effective treatment for those suffering from drug addiction will lessen or could even eliminate the demand for illicit drugs in the first place. The only way to effect these changes is to become more politically active, including supporting campaigns, initiatives, and ultimately representatives who advocate for drug policy reform, and the implementing of programs that raise awareness and lend support to those in need of help for drug addictions and mental health.
- Cantekin, K., & Elgin, C. (2019). Incarceration and Labor Market Conditions of the Underclass in the United States: An Empirical Investigation. European Journal on Criminal Policy and Research. doi:10.1007/s10610-019-09412-8
- Delgado, Richard, et al. Critical Race Theory: an Introduction. New York University Press, 2017.
- Fornili, Katherine Smith. “Racialized Mass Incarceration and the War on Drugs.” Journal of Addictions Nursing, vol. 29, no. 1, Jan. 2018, pp. 65–72., doi:10.1097/jan.0000000000000215.
- Mack, K. A., Jones, C. M., & Ballesteros, M. F. (2017). Illicit Drug Use, Illicit Drug Use Disorders, and Drug Overdose Deaths in Metropolitan and Nonmetropolitan Areas—United States. American Journal of Transplantation, 17(12), 3241-3252. doi:10.1111/ajt.14555
- Moore, L. D., & Elkavich, A. (2008). Who’s Using and Who’s Doing Time: Incarceration, the War on Drugs, and Public Health. American Journal of Public Health, 98(5), 782-786. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2007.126284
- Peacock, A., Leung, J., Larney, S., Colledge, S., Hickman, M., Rehm, J., . . . Degenhardt, L. (2018). Global statistics on alcohol, tobacco and illicit drug use: 2017 status report. Addiction, 113(10), 1905-1926. doi:10.1111/add.14234
- United States. Drug Enforcement Administration. (2018). 2018 National Drug Threat Assessment, 1973-2003. [Washington, D.C.] :U.S. Dept. of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration
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