Some problems take a bit more effort to solve than others, but that does not mean they are not worth solving.
This is especially the case with illicit drug use in America, a bane on society that has persisted in the face of countless assaults from the U.S. government. Every year millions of dollars in resources are poured into the enforcement of drug laws, yet many lament that we have made little progress.
Frustration with combating substance abuse is one theme of Steven Soderbergh’s new film, “Traffic,” which presents a dismal outlook on the prospects of achieving a solution. During one scene, a captured drug trafficker echoes a misguided sentiment too often presented in the public discussion on the war against drugs: Why expend so much money and lose so many lives to fight a problem whose only cure is the legalization of these illicit substances?
What does it matter, these same people ask, if some people get high, as long as they are not bothering anyone else? This logic is flawed for at least two important reasons.
First, it ignores the extreme and deleterious effects illegal drug use has on the social fabric of our country. Not only does drug abuse violate the dignity of the human body and defile the gift of life, but it also contributes to a lack of self-control that can spawn violent acts, tear families apart and prevent a person from realizing his full potential. In short, there is no such thing as harmless drug use — its very presence is a strain on a person, his future and those around him.
And in the face of the harsh reality that drug abuse ruins lives, to accept it as inevitable is simply unacceptable. It is particularly egregious in light of the fact that many of the victims suffering from drug dependency are America’s youth, those who are entrusted with protecting America’s rich heritage.
Secondly, the defeatist argument that legalization is the only way to solve America’s drug problem overlooks a number of viable options to confront the situation. There are no easy solutions, true; yet a dedicated effort to attack and solve the drug problem is possible and would focus on three particular areas.
The first approach is largely governmental and involves the strangulation of drug supply by capturing drug pushers and cartel bosses both at home and abroad. State and local police, backed by laws with stiff consequences for drug use, can make a very positive and sometimes underestimated impact on reducing the drug trade.
But strict police enforcement often elicits fears of long, costly prison terms for “small fish” while the major dealers go free. While this is an understandable criticism, it is hypocritical and irresponsible to blame all drug use on pushers. Even so, taking this concern into consideration, emphasis can and should be placed on prosecuting the top of the supply chain, and in this regard, occasional users can be offered reduced sentences in exchange for information, assuming they are willing to seek treatment.
Federal enforcement can also be effective in a supply-side attack. Recent presidents have appointed “drug czars” to direct the national effort and interact with foreign leaders to produce a unified strategy. While there is much debate as to whether the Office of the Drug Czar is an effective instrument to fight drug use, it seems clear that much progress — much more, perhaps, than has been already achieved — can be made by an adequately-funded, nationally-directed program to eliminate illicit drug traffic.
But it is naive to think a supply-side approach alone would be sufficient to solve the drug problem: Drugs will find ways into hands that desire them.
Accordingly, increased focus must be placed on the demand-driven nature of the drug trade. Key to this component of the solution is education. Many public schools already include drug resistance units in their curricula. Indeed, these programs are a good starting point if their content realistically portrays the dangers of drug use rather than pedantically listing lengthy drug names with a few of their aliases.
Here again is another criticism of current drug resistance education in schools. Many contend that programs such as D.A.R.E. are candy-coated and too “textbook-oriented” to make a lasting impression on the minds of young people. Though some education is better than none at all, programs such as D.A.R.E. can be improved to provide a more stark presentation of the dangers of drugs– in some sense to “scare” kids from drug use.
Unfortunately funding limitations often prevent extensive drug resistance education. Here, President George W. Bush’s proposed funding for faith-based social initiatives has intriguing potential. These sources of revenue could aid important and effective local efforts of drug abuse education.
In addition, federal funds could increase access to treatment for those who currently struggle with addiction. The long-term goal, of course, would be to make the need for treatment a rarity. That is, education done properly should discourage drug use in the first place, and thus be both an efficient and effective method to attack the drug problem.
Even still, money — and the educational resources and treatments it can provide — are hardly enough to reduce the demand for illegal drugs. Instead, the most important institution to combat America’s drug problem is found at the very heart of our society: the family. Families provide the perfect setting to confront a very personal problem that transcends all socio-economic barriers. The best drug czar is the parent.
Numerous studies have shown that children whose parents spend time with them, who are involved in their lives and who remind them of the dangers of drugs are substantially less likely to abuse drugs than those without the same family guidance during their formative years.
But in many senses, family life has fallen out of the public dialogue. Sadly, a trend has developed where references to the importance of families have become almost politically incorrect, an infringement on personal choices. But for real progress to occur in the war on drugs, the positive impact of family values must reemerge in our discourse on the issue.
A focus on the family, as with any solution to a problem of the magnitude of drug use, asks many sacrifices. It calls on parents to spend the time and energy needed to building strong relationships with their children; it calls on the young to exercise self-restraint and use sound judgement under the pressure of temptation; it even calls on government to assist both in achieving these goals.
The solution is not easy, but that must not diminish its importance in helping the fight against drugs. And it is a fight worth winning.
William Edwards is a junior in Pierson College. His columns appear on alternate Mondays.