Drug Abuse and Addiction - Facing the Problem

Drug abuse is one of the biggest problems facing the world today. It destroys millions of lives, tears families apart and robs the public purse of tens of billions of dollars each year. And as the scourge of drug addiction tightens its grip on society, governments the world over watch in helpless horror, seemingly powerless to stem the tide of terrible consequences.

Let's face it, the so-called War on Drugs simply isn't working.

One of the most awkward questions confronting politicians charged with tackling this problem is: What exactly is drug abuse? Joseph Califano, president of the USA 's National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA), puts the problem in a nutshell: "It's an equal opportunity disease." Drug abuse spreads its net far wider than the homeless heroin addict lying in the gutter.

Drug abusers include well-heeled heavy smokers who deliberately damage their own health and pollute the air of those around them, often at great cost to society. They include high flying heavy drinkers who jeopardise their family relationships and careers through their addiction to alcohol. Then there are the street kids in South America and Eastern Europe who rely on inhalants to ease the pain of starvation and homelessness. Youngsters in wealthier countries do the same through boredom, peer pressure, despair, problems at home.

Realising How Common Drug Abuse Is

Tobacco, alcohol and inhalants are the most widely abused substances in the world - substances which are, generally speaking, legal, readily available and highly destructive. So should our governments ban them? The answer, judging by the failed prohibition experiment in the USA in the 1920s, is probably no. The outlawing of alcohol created huge profits for the organised crime industry, gang warfare, drive-by shootings and a proliferation of illegal booze outlets. New York boasted more than 100,000 speakeasies at the height of the "great experiment". Sounds familiar? The same thing happens today with the outlawing of hard drugs. The USA has some of the most draconian anti-drug laws in the world - this is a country where drug sniffing dogs are sent into schools and addicts are incarcerated for years. But these laws don't stop hard drugs being freely available on street corners, in bars and in schools. And neither do they stop the problem of widespread abuse and addiction. The people who really appreciate these laws are the drug barons who have created a multi-billion dollar industry out of them.

So perhaps it's time for a radical rethink on the "war" against drugs.

A study by CASA found that in one year alone America 's states spent $81 billion tackling the health and criminal consequences of substance abuse. A relatively meagre $218 million went on preventing and treating abuse among young people. Banning a substance doesn't stop people getting hold of it...and in the case of youngsters it simply makes the outlawed substance more desirable. Many youth workers specialising in the field of substance abuse believe governments need to switch the emphasis to education, prevention and treatment rather than focusing on the pursuit and incarceration of individual users. Not a great vote winner which is why politicians tend to opt for punishment instead of prevention.

When drugs are legal they can be strictly controlled and taxed, those who abuse them can seek help and treatment without fear of a jail sentence and the drug barons are driven out of business.

Man has been using mind altering substances for thousands of years. He used to be able to do it without creating death and destruction all around him. So where have we gone wrong?

This site looks at the use and abuse of a wide range of drugs, their effects on individuals and society and the way in which different governments around the world are trying to deal with the problem.

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