Drug Abuse: Just What The Economy Ordered?

drugsAccording to a new report issued by the World Health Organization, drug use is more common in the United States than in any other country in the world, including those with comparatively lax drug enforcement laws such as the Netherlands.  Americans are the most frequent users of cocaine and marijuana; for instance, 16% of Americans reported using cocaine as opposed to the next closest contender, New Zealand (4%).  Americans are also the most likely to use marijuana (42%). 

Which drugs are Americans using?  Not surprisingly, the most common illegal drug today is marijuana, followed by cocaine, and methamphetamine.  According the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, 42% of total drug arrests involve marijuana.  This figure takes on new significance considering that marijuana is more potent than it’s been in over 30 years

These findings comport with LegalMatch.com figures I gathered from 2005 through the end of 2008.  39% of people looking for a drug-related criminal defense attorney were arrested for a crime involving marijuana; while 20% of arrests involved methamphetamine, 15% involved cocaine, 11% involved crack, 10% involved other drugs such as prescription medications, 3% involved heroin, 2% involved ecstasy, and 0.2% involved steroids.

While it’s discouraging to know that despite spending almost $12 billion per year on drug prevention efforts, so many Americans continue to use, the White House has some positive news.   According to a recent press release, illegal drug use in America is on the decline. A report based on data compiled from workplace drug tests, a study conducted by the University of Michigan, and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency shows that America’s tough drug policies are reducing illegal drug availability and demand.  Specifically, there was a 25% decline in overall illegal drug use by youths from 2001 to 2008.  Cocaine on American streets dropped in purity by 32% and increased in price by 89%, indicating a lack of supply.  Further, nationwide workplace drug tests showed a 38% drop in positive results from June 2006 to June 2008.

While illegal drug use may be on the decline as the economy tanks, some reports indicate that people are increasingly turning to prescription “escape” drugs, such as painkillers and mood enhancers to dull the pain of a foreclosure or job loss.  Drug industry sales figures show that many Americans are forgoing expensive doctor visits and high-priced medications, and instead choosing to mask their pain with prescription painkillers and psychiatric drugs.  Additionally, DEA officials recently reported that prescription drug abuse is rising sharply, at about an 80% increase from 2002. 

Is one problem merely being replaced by another?  Maybe not if the new administration recognizes that drug problems come in many different forms.

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