Addiction to drugs is an epidemic in the United States. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, in 2012 almost 24 million people in the U.S. had used an illicit drug or abused a prescription drug within the last month. The Centers for Disease Control has reported that drug overdose deaths have more than tripled since 1990. In an effort to deal with the problem of addiction, local, state, and federal officials have taken a hard stance against drug use and addiction. These efforts are often called crackdowns.
Definition and Characteristics of Crackdowns
According to the Center for Problem-Oriented Policing, crackdowns refer to a police response to a particular crime. While crackdowns are often viewed as simply arresting those involved with drugs, they can be used in tandem with responses. Possible elements involved in crackdowns include the following:
- Targeting repeat offenders
- Conducting sting operations
- Educating and warning citizens
- Conducting field interviews
- Conducting traffic stops
- Utilizing high-visibility patrols
- Community interaction
In terms of drug trafficking, crackdowns succeed in disrupting local drug markets for a short time. They reduce the number of drug users and drug dealers and decrease the visibility of drug deals and dealers.
What Crackdowns Do to Drug Use and Trade
When police conduct a crackdown on a specific drug or a specific geographic area, several effects on drug use and dealing can be identified. Effects of crackdowns on the drug trade include the following:
- The increased cost of using and dealing drugs
- Difficulty in users and buyers finding each other
- Increased risk of arrest
- Increased risk of drug seizure
- Less willingness to deal drugs to strangers
A crackdown in one particular location typically does not eliminate drug trafficking. Instead, the location and sometimes the major dealers will change. Another result is a change in the type of drug used.
For example, PBS reported that in 1982 officials seized over 3,900 pounds of cocaine, which was the largest seizure to date. With this crackdown of the South Florida Drug Task Force, traffickers had to shift their trade routes to Mexican marijuana smugglers. From the late 1980s to the mid-1990s, drug users began to turn to locally produced methamphetamines as well as prescription narcotics according to The Atlantic’s City Lab. This drove addiction from the inner city to the suburbs.
From Cocaine to Prescription Pills to Heroin
Since 1999 the sale of prescription narcotics has increased by 300% according to the CDC. Again this was due in part to the nationwide crackdown on cocaine. Since the prescription pill addiction boom has surfaced, officials cracked down on the abuse of those drugs. They arrested doctors involved in peddling drugs and closed pill mills. In addition, prescription monitoring programs have been established in many states. These programs are designed to track a person’s usage of medications and flag suspicious drug behavior such as a pharmacy dispensing too many pills or a patient getting medication from multiple sources.
However, the federal and state crackdown on prescription narcotics has fueled a new drug epidemic—heroin addiction. According to The Washington Post, heroin is cheaper and more readily available than prescription pain medicines, while providing a comparable euphoria.
The “Why” Behind Changing Trends in Popular Drugs
Historically crackdown on one kind of drug has led to a surge in addiction to another kind of drug. This is due to the nature of addiction. Addiction is not simply a moral choice or the failure to make a good decision. Addiction is a chronic brain disease according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine. When a person takes drugs, those drugs interact with the reward structures of the brain. This means that the brain is rewired to be motivated toward continued drug use. The prefrontal cortex, which controls reward, motivation, and memory, is at the center of this rewiring. Brain function changes as a result. This is why a person will continue in his drug seeking and drug using even though he experiences negative consequences.
When a crackdown occurs on a particular drug, that crackdown does not change a person’s brain disease. Rather than stop using drugs because they’re expensive or unavailable, an addict will simply use a different drug to meet a similar need. Until the biological and physiological components of addiction are acknowledged, a worldwide crackdown on drugs won’t stop drug use. People in addiction will find ways to feed their cravings. This underscores the importance of seeing addiction as a chronic disease and treating is as such. Shifting the focus of drug use as a crime deserving of punishment to drug use as a disease needing treatment is the first step in slowing the epidemic of addiction.