Drug policy since 1970

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 1, 2002

In April 1972, Special Assistant Attorney General of the United States Myles J. Ambrose told U.S. News and World Report, "As of 1960, the Bureau of Narcotics estimated that we had somewhere in the neighborhood of 55,000 addicts. They estimate now the figure is 560,000."

Although it is possible that the number of addicts increased during those years, it also is possible that the government became more enlightened on the use and abuse of non-medicinal drugs. From the early 1970s, the U.S. government began instituting several agencies and programs to help get a better estimate of drug use in the U.S.

In 1971, President Nixon declared that "America's Public Enemy No. 1 is drug abuse," and then called for the creation of a Special Action Office of Drug Abuse Prevention, according to Time. As a result, the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) and the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse (NHSDA) were both initiated.

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The NHSDA, now a project of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), surveys approximately 70,000 persons per year in an effort to receive information on the prevalence and incidence of illicit drug, alcohol and tobacco use in the population aged 12 years and older. The survey has been in effect since 1972, and in 2000, reported that nationwide, an estimated 14.0 million Americans were current illicit drug users, meaning they had used an illicit drug during the month prior to interview.

The Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) is an ongoing drug abuse data collection system sponsored by SAMHSA's Office of Applied Studies (OAS).  DAWN collects data from hospital emergency departments and medical examiners, and has been doing so since 1992.

DAWN also collects information on drug-related deaths from a sample of death investigation jurisdictions, which is published annually in the "Mortality Data from the Drug Abuse Warning Network."

The legal foundation of the government's fight against the abuse of drugs and other substances is through the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). The act was established by Title II of the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970, which regulates the manufacture and distribution of narcotics, according to the United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).

"The CSA places all substances that are regulated under existing federal law into one of five schedules. This placement is based on the substance's medicinal value, harmfulness and potential for abuse or addiction. Schedule I is reserved for the most dangerous drugs that have no recognized medical use, while Schedule V is the classification used for the least dangerous drugs," according to the DEA," according to the administration.

In 1985, the Pentagon spent approximately $40 million on interdiction, and by 1990, the General Accounting Office reported that the military's efforts have had no discernible impact on the flow of drugs, as reported by the Schaffer Library.

The Office of National Drug Control predicts that although the Pentagon's efforts some 17 years ago showed no impact on the flow of drugs, the federal government will spend approximately $19.2 billion at a rate of about $609 per second on the war on drugs, with state and local governments spending at least another $20 billion. Arrests for drug law violations in 2002 are expected to exceed the 1,579,566 arrests of 2000, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Uniform Crime Reports. In addition, the FBI reports that someone is arrested every 20 seconds. On Friday, the United States Department of Justice reported that 99,000 people had already been incarcerated this year for drug law offenses, and that the total predicted number of arrests for 2002 will exceed 235,000.

The authors of The Effective National Drug Control Strategy 1999, which includes such reforms networks as the Council on Illicit Drugs and the Drug Reform

Coordination Network, "the current model of drug control relies primarily on law enforcement to seize drugs and imprison drug offenders. While these efforts have produced large numbers of arrests, incarcerations and seizures, drug overdose deaths have increased 540 percent since 1980 and drug-related problems have worsened.

"The drug war has succeeded in arresting and incarcerating large numbers of people; in fact, there are over 1.7 million Americans behind bars. As of June 1996, 5.5 million Americans were under some form of control by the justice system. Which translates into one out of every 35 adults in the nation."

The group added that the Department of Justice has reported 85 percent of the increase in the federal prison population from 1985 to 1995 was due to drug convictions.

The drug war is continuing, and many policies and reform groups have worked to combat drugs and their users throughout the U.S. Although millions of dollars may be spent each year on drug offenders and users, it is the best way money can be spent to keep children and adults of the U.S. safe in their communities.