Decades after the government kicked off the war on drugs in an attempt to reduce drug abuse and defund the criminal enterprises behind the drug trade, America is still reeling from the effects of this failed endeavor. While the intent behind the drug war was noble, authorities went about achieving it the wrong way, mainly focusing their attention on minorities such as African Americans and Latinos, and wreaking untold havoc on these underserved communities.
Presently, it is widely accepted that the decades-long war on drugs is an unmitigated failure that has ruined millions of lives over exceedingly minor drug offenses, broken families and condemned people to generations of poverty.
According to a prominent federal official, it is so apparent that the drug war has had a disproportionate effect on communities of color that there is no need for further research on the matter. The National Institute on Drug Abuse’s Director N. Volkow has frequently made her thoughts on the wide-ranging effects of the war on drugs known, stating repeatedly that the country needs to stop looking at drug abuse as a criminal issue and start approaching it as a matter of public health. In a new interview with “Springer Nature,” a scientific journal publication, Volkow again discussed the effects of drug criminalization as well as America’s approach to drug addiction.
Volkow, who recently wrote an op-ed for the popular media outlet Scientific American, said that minority communities were unfairly targeted by the drug war, leading to intense policing and harsh sentences, and that is reason enough to re-evaluate America’s drug policies. The long history of racist as well as discriminatory policies continues today, she says, and imprisoning people of color at a disproportionately high rate has had catastrophic effects on the minority communities’ families, health, education, housing, and economic security as well as mobility. There is more than enough solid evidence to prove this, she says, and what we need to do now is to have an urgent discussion on how to change these drug policies.
When she was asked about America’s approach to substance misuse and whether there was consensus on the necessity to change the country’s strategy, she said “serious work” is required. Drug use, addiction and mental disorders are extremely stigmatized in societies across the world, she says, and it is only natural for humans to fear and alienate what they consider taboo.
However, this means that drug addiction as well as mental disorders are often treated as a criminal issue instead of tackling them with “evidence-backed care plus compassion” as a public health matter, she noted. Ultimately, America needs to reconsider how it addresses drug use and abuse.
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