US Drug Epidemic

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Illegal drug use in the U.S. is reaching epidemic levels. All across the country, individuals, families, and communities are struggling to cope with the problem that is ruining many lives.

TIME CODE: 00:00_05:00

Narration: Illegal drug use in the U.S. is reaching epidemic levels. All across the country, individuals, families, communities, and health care systems are struggling to cope with the problem that is ruining the future of many young people, and ending lives prematurely and tragically.

In 2013, an estimated 25 million Americans were illicit drug users. The drugs used included marijuana, cocaine, heroin, hallucinogens, inhalants and prescription-type psychotherapeutics. Among whites, illicit drug use increased to 9.5 percent from 8.5 percent in less than a decade. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention there are currently about 500,000 people addicted to heroin in the US. The survey found that more than nine in 10 people were using heroin alongside at least one other drug.

The increased availability and lower price of heroin has been identified as a potential contributor to the rising rates of use. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, the amount of heroin seized each year has quadrupled, from 500 kilograms from 2002-2008 to 2,196 kilograms in 2013.

The Drug Enforcement Administration’s findings warn of a greatly expanding public health crisis, due to the use and abuse of heroin and other drugs. In a statement, DEA Acting Administrator Chuck Rosenberg said:

“We tend to overuse words such as ‘unprecedented’ and ‘horrific,’ but the death and destruction connected to heroin and opioids is indeed unprecedented and horrific ...The problem is enormous and growing, and all of our citizens need to wake up to these facts.”

In February 2016, President Obama asked Congress for $1.1 billion in new funding to address the epidemic of prescription opioid and heroin abuse in this country.

But it's not just opioids and heroin. Fatal overdoses and abuses of other drugs are also steeply on the rise. TIME magazine has collected data on cocaine, benzodiazepines and stimulants like crystal meth. All three categories have also risen dramatically since the year 2000.

Statistics show that every day in the US there is an average of 7,800 new drug users which adds up to about 3 million a year. Of all American addicts more than 60 percent are men and the rest women; and near 70 percent are white followed by Hispanics, African Americans and other. Figures show that about 8 percent of the addicts are from all age groups from 12 to over 50.

At the National Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin summit in Atlanta in March 2016, President Obama called further attention to the drug epidemic in America.

SOUNDBITE [English] Barack Obama, US President: “When you look at these staggering statistics in terms of lives lost, productivity impacted, costs to communities but most importantly costs to families from this epidemic opioids abuse. It has to be something is right up there the top of our RADAR screen. You mentioned the number 28,000. It's important to recognize that today we are saying more people killed because of opioids overdose than traffic accidents. I think about that.”

TIME CODE: 05:00_09:25

Narration: According to the latest reports and statistics, 1 in 5 young adults in 2014 were users of illicit drugs; 7,800 people aged 12 and over tried an illicit drug for the first time every day; In this regard, Marijuana was the drug most new illicit drug users begin with, followed by prescription pain relievers and then inhalants; 700 billion dollars is the amount the abuse of tobacco, alcohol, and illicit drugs costs to Americans annually in costs related to crime, lost work productivity and health care. The amount the business of recovery has increased by three times in the last 25 years. Currently, there are about 14,000 addiction treatment facilities in the country; the annual revenue generated by the addiction treatment industry adds up to 35 billion dollars; 11% of Americans in 2013 who needed treatment for an addiction problem actually received one..

All these staggering figures reveal one thing in common: US failure in its so-called “war on drugs” both at national and international levels.At home, the US government has been unable to close down the drug pipeline; it has also failed to quell popular desire for “illegal” drugs. In 1980, about 40,000 people were in U.S. jails and prisons for drug crimes; today, it’s about a half-million people, a disproportionate number African-Americans and other people of color. A 2015 Pew Research survey found that more than half (53%) of respondents favor the legal use of marijuana, while 44 percent are opposed. Nearly a decade ago, in 2006, just one third (32%) supported marijuana legalization, while nearly twice as many (60%) were opposed.

But more importantly, the US has failed at the international front. Fighting narcotics have long been justifying US occupation of Afghanistan. But now it has become clear US officials have had no serious interest in tackling drug problems. Since 2001, the US has spent over $700 billion on the war in Afghanistan; of this number, only $7 billion has been spent on counternarcotics operations there. In other words, the so-called ‘drug war’ in Afghanistan accounts for a mere 1% of total expenses. John Sopko, the special inspectors general who assesses American programs in Afghanistan summarizes the US war on drugs in Afghanistan this way: “By every conceivable metric, we’ve failed. Production and cultivation are up, interdiction and eradication are down, financial support to the insurgency is up, and addiction and abuse are at unprecedented levels in Afghanistan”.

The 2015 World Drug Report notes that Afghanistan still accounts for about 80% of global opiate and heroin production.

As the US attacked Afghanistan in 2001, that year’s opium production was a mere 180 tons. Since then, it has reached record harvests of over 7,000 tons in 2007 and over 6,000 tons in 2014. Over the past decades, it has turned out that reducing drug problems is not a strategic objective of the US establishment. On the contrary, impunity and support for drug lords and warlords has been the norm since 2001. A New York University report documented the use by NATO and US forces of private security companies and militias that are often run by strongmen responsible for human rights abuses or involved in narcotics.

After years of political hypocrisy, the chickens have come home to roost. The US is in the grip of a drug epidemic now and illegal drugs are targeting American society as never before. 


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