Have we arrived at the dawn of the 21st century having become a nation of addicts?
I don't know about you, but I find it less significant that the number of black Americans doing time in state prisons for drug offenses has fallen and the number of white Americans who are doing time for the same crime has increased, than the fact that that there are more than 180,000 Americans in jail because of drug-related offenses. Drug offenders, we are told, make up a quarter of the total prison population.
This new information about the prison population is based on a report by the Sentencing Project, which was based on data compiled by federal Bureau of Justice Statistics that covered six years and ended in 2005.
When we couple those numbers with the fact that we are said to be the richest, most technologically advanced country on the globe, it seems that we didn't get something right. Most of us have always been led to believe that being smart and having money were goals worth striving for, so does this mean that our attempt to gain these advantages has left us so stressed out and emotionally drained that we don't get to enjoy the rewards we have earned?
One of the worst habits we have acquired as a government is that we tend to allow things that are harmful to society to get out of hand before we make an effort to curtail them. Sometimes this is because we are reluctant — and rightly so — to interfere with individual liberties.
Our failure to act can often, though, be laid at the feet of the members of the two-party system who tend to weigh their attitudes about solutions to problems on whether or not they are favored by the other party. By batting the problem around for a year or two, we find we have lost control.
The so-called War on Drugs was lost years ago not just because of the number of individuals who get hooked on them every year, but by the fact that new drugs continue to come on the market every year or so. Drug use was already out of hand in the 1960s.
As a society, we have to begin to look at our lifestyles and find ways to reduce the stress and strains because they are evidently taking their toll on all of us. Those of us who are not drug users ultimately find ourselves paying the cost of Social Security Disability payments for those whose mental or physical health has deteriorated from use of drugs and alcohol.
We need to identify the elements in our daily lives that cause us to escape the pain and agony that we feel we must endure. In the past, the labor movement and others have addressed the workday to alleviate some of the stress of long hours on the job. They have established the five-day workweek, the eight-hour workday, and the morning and afternoon coffee break. Some workplaces have added exercise rooms and equipment to help relieve the pressure of the work environment.
Most individuals take responsibility for finding ways to reduce the stress in their own lives by taking on hobbies, participating in sports or finding some other outlet to counter the anxiety in their lives. But some people look for easy fixes for whatever ails them and if they can't find one in their medicine cabinet, then they look elsewhere.
The number of prisoners confined for drug offenses certainly does not represent the entire drug-using population in the United States. According to the 2006 National Household Survey on Drug Use, 12 million Americans age 12 and older said they had used drugs at least once in their lifetime and 15 percent admitted they had used drugs within the past year. Some individuals feel that decriminalizing the sale and use of drugs will free up law enforcement officers to pursue those involved in violent crimes and ease the overflow in prison detainment.
Personally, I disagree and feel that decriminalization will only add to the problem by creating more dependency on institutional health care to deal with the situation. Furthermore, I think, the free access to drugs would encourage more children to participate in drug activity. I think the answer lies in sociological studies to find out why we have such a compelling need to break the law and risk losing everything for the sake of a few minutes of feel-good.
If we seriously intend to solve the drug problem in this country we are going to have to start behaving like grown-ups and face the fact that many of these addicts are members of our own families and some of our close friends. I suspect that we haven't succeeded simply because we don't want to look the problem in the eye and move on it. Time is not on our side. We need to act.
You can join the conversation with Rose M. Nolen by calling her at 882-5734 or e-mailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org.