Approaches to combat problem of drug abuse

Government – Federal Policy


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Policy Summary:

The president’s national drug control strategy comprises three specific approaches to combat the problem of drug abuse comprehensively. The strategy is designed to stop drug use before it starts, to provide drug treatment resources where they are needed, and to attack the economic basis of the drug trade, both domestically and internationally. The policy was motivated by the documented prevalence of drug abuse in society, particularly in economically impoverished areas and also by the alarming results of studies detailing the early introduction of school-aged children to drug use.

One major goal of the policy is to provide educational programs to increase awareness of the problem before it starts. Another goal is to provide appropriate counseling and treatment to those already experiencing drug-related problems. Finally, the policy includes a law enforcement component of the problem to apprehend those involved in the illegal distribution of illegal drugs, interdict smuggling operations that continually violate U.S. And international law at U.S. borders, and redress the existing vulnerabilities of the prescription drug distribution system that currently lends itself to corruption in connection with illicit procurement, use, and illegal sales of controlled substances (USONDCP, 2004).

I. Stopping Use Before it Starts: Education and Community Action:

The first component of the policy strategy is to identify those factors implicated in the early exposure of children to drug use before, rather than after, those factors begin to exert influence on children, especially in school. The data reviewed in conjunction with designing this component of the policy suggest that, contrary to popular perception, most children who experiment or use illegal drugs never actually encounter the criminals who distribute drugs into society. Instead, the vast majority of children who experiment with illegal drugs receive them from classmates and members of their own peer group.

Therefore, the policy targets education as means of balancing the harmful exposure by emphasizing awareness and education of the dangers associated with illegal drug use through educational programs provided in school. Secondly, the policy recognizes that school represents only one portion of school-aged children’s exposure to both harmful and beneficial social messages. By funding community programs to publicize the dangers associated with illegal drug use, the policy makes beneficial use of existing avenues of extracurricular formats to supplement educational programs provided within the educational environment (USONDCP, 2004).

Those efforts incorporate community relations programs, media campaigns as well as incentives for the entertainment industry and its many different venues to adopt policies and to present messages conducive to countering the effect of exposure to negative messages encountered by children in society. Finally, because the evidence strongly suggests that drug testing works to reduce drug abuse, the policy includes funding for the establishment and administration of drug testing programs in conjunction with assessment and treatment programs for those already in need of such services (USONDCP, 2004).

II. Healing America’s Drug Users: Getting Treatment Resources Where They Are Needed: The portion of the President’s drug policy that is dedicated to treatment comprises three main sub-components: (1) providing appropriate clinical treatment and recovery services for those already experiencing drug abuse problems; (2) expanding the drug courts program to maximize the coercive power of penal law to offer beneficial incentives as alternatives to incarceration for drug-related convictions; and (3) providing appropriate counseling services to those currently using illicit drugs who are not yet addicted to them.

The first sub-component emphasizes a voucher program format whereby drug users may obtain free counseling and medical treatment services from federally funded agencies, organizations, and medical facilities. Funding for such institutions and facilities specifically targets low-income and high-crime areas known to be associated with higher incidences of illicit drug abuse and addiction (USONDCP, 2004).

The second sub-component makes productive use of the criminal justice system to structure a more beneficial approach than simply increasing enforcement and punishment of drug offenses across the board. Rather, this element of the policy is designed to intervene and prevent continued illegal use of drugs, but in a manner that recognizes that many drug users are more victims than perpetrators. Specifically, the policy encourages a system of gradually escalating criminal sanctions and that provides opportunities for first-time offenders to participate in drug treatment, awareness, and avoidance programs as an alternative to imposing harsher penalties authorized by criminal law that are less beneficial to the individual offender and to the community.

Finally, this sub-component also recognizes the growing problem associated with diversion of prescription drugs into the illicit black market. The policy provides funding for methods to redress that issue by improved tracking of prescriptions for controlled substances, including the practice of “doctor shopping” sometimes used to obtain legal prescriptions for controlled substances with the intention of distributing them illegally for profit (USONDCP, 2004).

III. Disrupting the Market: Attacking the Economic Basis of the Drug Trade: The third major component of the President’s drug policy incorporates law enforcement and prosecution in a manner designed to address the economic basis of the drug trade. Specifically, the policy authorizes both increased funding as well as tactical reorganization of various elements of the criminal justice system with respect to the illegal drug trade. In that regard, the policy emphasizes a priority targeting initiative designed to identify and prosecute specific criminal organizations and enterprises involved in the illegal drug trade (USONDCP, 2004).

Additionally, the policy provides funding and guidance for increasing the ratio of U.S. prosecuting attorneys dedicated to the anti-drug issue in conjunction with Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) and both state and local law enforcement efforts to interdict the supply of the illicit drug market. These elements of the policy include funding of law enforcement fusion centers for the collection, analysis, and appropriate dissemination of necessary information pertaining to specific criminal activity; increased funding for border protection services designed to interdict illegal drug smugglers before their products enter the country; and increased funding for elements of the criminal justice system involved in identifying illegal funds and money transfers in order to dismantle criminal enterprises profiting from illegal drug sales and failure to comply with U.S. income tax laws (USONDCP, 2004).

Policy Analysis:

Law enforcement plays a crucial role in the President’s drug policy. While other aspects of the policy emphasize treatment and the rehabilitation of offenders in more productive ways than incarceration, law enforcement operations are still the primary means through which offenders come under the umbrella of any such program. The policy distinguishes between first-time (and other low-level) drug users from those implicated in drug sales and distribution.

The dual role of law enforcement is (1) to apprehend drug users in order to provide incentive for their voluntary participation in beneficial substance abuse and treatment programs in lieu of incarceration; and (2) to increase pressure on criminal enterprises responsible for the distribution and sales of illegal drugs into the U.S. black market. The apprehension of low-level drug dealers is delegated to local law enforcement authorities with increased federal funding, while federal law enforcement and border protection law enforcement agencies address smuggling across U.S. borders and large domestic criminal organizations involved in the distribution of drugs within the U.S., respectively.

Likewise, the policy emphasizes the roles of schools and communities with respect to providing guidance and awareness to children at risk of exposure to drug use before their exposure. This aspect of the policy recognizes the insufficiency of relying exclusively on one or the other; instead, it provides funding and guidance to both school programs and communities so that their efforts complement each other and fill in where the other leaves off.

Criticism of Policy:

The most obvious criticisms of the policy is that (1) it utterly fails to address the discrepancy between the manner in which the U.S. government treats legal drugs like alcohol and cigarettes and illicit drugs. In principle, this discrepancy undermines the policy because it detracts from its credibility, particularly in light of the heavy lobbying presence of tobacco interests in Washington (Farwell, 2008).

Perhaps more importantly, the policy all but neglects the issue of addressing the social problems that give rise to criminal activity of all types, including but hardly limited to illicit drug use. Specifically, the policy neglects the improvement of social factors, especially in low-income/high-crime communities that often result in increased vulnerability to illegal drug use (Macionis, 2003).


Farwell, S. Man Who Sells Tips on How to Avoid Arrest Is Running for Congress; the Dallas Morning News (Mar. 3/08)

Macionis, J. (2003) Sociology 9th Edition. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

USONDCP (2004) the President’s National Drug Control Strategy. Retrieved October 21, 2008 at

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