Legalization of Drugs – The Addiction Treatment and Education Alternatives

Prohibition may not work, but making drugs legal is no guarantee either. A better strategy might be to fully utilize addiction treatment services.

More and more groups are forming to push the legalization of drugs. There is even a prominent group of law enforcement officials who think that taking drugs should not be against the law. It’s understandable that people, like the police, who fight the never-ending battle against drugs would want to see an end to it. But it’s possible that the real problem is not the drugs, but how we treat, or, more to the point, don’t treat drugs addicts.

According to Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), the war on drugs has cost taxpayers more than a trillion dollars since it began nearly forty years ago. There have also been 37 million arrests of non-violent drug offenders, and our prison population has quadrupled. We arrest almost 2 million more offenders every year and, according to LEAP, $69 million will be spent every year this war continues.

Despite our efforts, and all the money being spent, drugs are an even bigger problem than they were when the war began.

Consequently, LEAP members, and many others, believe we should legalize drugs. While not having to track down, arrest and incarcerate drug dealers and drug users would arguably save billions, LEAP also claims that fewer people would take drugs if they were legal. This is clearly an assumption: no one really knows what would happen if drugs were freely available.

It is possible that those who take drugs only because they’re not supposed to – like a child or teenager who will do something merely because their parents said they couldn’t – won’t take them. But it is also possible that those people are few and far between.

However, there are alternatives. The RAND corporation released reports as far back as 1994 showing that drug treatment and education were seven times more cost effective as going through the criminal justice system.

Despite this fact, and even with drug courts being implemented in many states, few non-violent drug offenders arrested ever get drug treatment so they can kick the habit. Some statistics say fewer than 5%.

Getting someone through a drug rehab program, especially at a good addiction treatment center, not only increases their chances of staying off drugs and turns them into productive citizens, it also saves a lot of money – just like the RAND corporation said. It costs about $6,000 to get an offender through drug rehab, and about $26,000 to incarcerate them.

Aside from these direct cost savings, we also save money on repeat offenses. According to recent statistics, incarcerating offenders for the second or third time eats up the lion’s share of the budget. If drug offenders were no longer on drugs, and no longer committing drug-related crimes, the chances of them going back to jail would be greatly reduced.

But there’s something wrong with how the drug court system is being used. Reading about the various courts and their graduates, you often see numbers like ‘eight’, or ‘forty-five.’ How can so few people be enrolled in these programs when they have proven to be so successful and when we have a problem of gargantuan proportions?

With two million people a year being arrested, it seems unlikely that only single or double digits would wind up in drug court rehab programs. And what about the millions already incarcerated – why aren’t those non-violent drug offenders being diverted to drug rehab programs?

Concerned parents and other citizens should demand changes in this system. Getting drug offenders off the street temporarily isn’t enough. As long as there’s a market for drugs, there will be suppliers. Only when we rehabilitate drug offenders and users will we truly turn the corner in the war on drugs.