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Drug addiction and abuse constitute a major social problem that is interlaced throughout our society. Each year it costs billions of dollars in terms of interdiction, prevention, enforcement, treatment, and lost productivity. Moreover, the drug problem exacerbates a number of other social problems including poverty, homelessness, crime, and family discord.
Society is bombarded constantly by all sorts of messages advocating the use of drugs. Pharmaceutical companies and vendors have inundated society with drug advertising. Few people can open their email accounts without having at least one message that attempts to sell some type of drug. Many of these vendors have their own physicians who can prescribe drugs in absentia. A significant proportion of television advertising is now devoted to prescription drugs, and they all end by urging viewers to ask their physician about some drug that will enhance their lives by making them feel better, look better, or have enhanced sexuality. There are approximately 3 billion prescriptions written annually, and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that each year physicians write about 1.5 prescriptions per office visit, demonstrating a substantial amount of medicating in the USA (NIDA 2004).
Nicotine and alcohol are the two most widely used drugs in society, but because of their legal status most people do not see them as such, although this has been moderated somewhat as government and public groups have attempted to negatively label their use and abuse.
Although compulsive drug use begins with experimentation, it is not true that all drug experimenters end up as compulsive drug users. In 2002, The National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that 46 percent of the population in the USA aged 12 or older had used an illicit drug in their lifetimes, but only 8.3 percent had used an illicit drug in the past month. The survey also found that approximately 19.5 million people in the USA were current drug users. The most widely used drug was marijuana with a use rate of 6.2 percent.
As noted above, drug use is interlaced with a variety of problems. The relationship between drugs and crime is of most importance and drives a substantial proportion of the concerns with drug abuse. Although drug use is attributable to some crime, many experts agree that the drug problem commingles with the crime problem and that criminals reside in a culture that is conducive to drug use. These experts argue that it is not a clear-cut causal relationship.
If drug usage statistics were examined in detail for a period of several years, it would reveal that there is an ebb and flow of drug problems. Drugs of choice, to some extent, vary by region of the country, age of the population, and city. Historically, society and government have not recognized that there are multiple drug problems, and for the most part have developed prevention, suppression, and treatment programs that may be applicable to one part of the country or one type of drug, but have less utility for other parts of the country and other drugs. The drug problems must be fully understood in terms of patterns of usage, and more effective programs must be fashioned that address specific populations and types of drugs.
- Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) (2003) Results from the 2002 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: National Findings. Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, DC.
- Goode, E. (2005) Drugs in American Society, 6th edn. McGraw-Hill, New York.