Drugs and the Justice System - The Relationship Between Drugsand Crime, Drugs And Alcohol Play A Major Rolein Arrests, Arrestee Drug Use
control samhsa public abuse
The United States justice system has been affected since the early 1900s by attempts to eradicate various drugs. The first legislation aimed at drugs was the Harrison Act of 1914, which outlawed opiates and cocaine. Following that act, laws were passed or amended at intervals, but the war on drugs began in earnest in the early 1970s after Congress passed the Comprehensive Drug Abuse and Control Act in 1970. The phrase "war on drugs" dates to 1971, during the first Nixon administration. A national effort was launched after that to bring drug use under control. It is still very much under way and has lasted much longer than an earlier movement to control another substance—alcohol.
Alcohol was prohibited by the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1919. According to the U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) ("Homicide Rates, 1900-2000"), during Prohibition (1920-33) criminal activity peaked and the homicide rate reached record levels (9.7 murders per one hundred thousand people in 1933) that were not surpassed again until 1974 (about ten per one hundred thousand), when the war on drugs was underway. (See Figure 5.1.) The rate remained high throughout the 1980s and early 1990s before beginning a decline. Alcohol was legalized again with the passage of the Twenty-first Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1933. Tobacco, another legal substance, has also captured public interest. Efforts are underway to persuade people to give up smoking, but tobacco remains a legal product that may be purchased by adults.
Public efforts to influence or prohibit the use of substances that change the mood or enhance attention have had mixed results. Prohibition came to an end because of massive public disobedience. Data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (formerly the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse) conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA), an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, suggests a similar public response to laws that prohibit use of drugs. In 2003, 46.4% of people aged twelve or older, more than 110 million individuals, had used drugs at some time in their lives. About thirty-five million had done so in the last twelve months, and nearly 19.5 million had used drugs in the past thirty days. (See Table 3.4 and Table 3.3 in Chapter 3.) The percentage of lifetime users increased during the twenty-five preceding years; it was 31% of the twelve-and-older population in 1979, according to SAMHSA.
In some ways, efforts to control the use of substances appear to be inconsistent with direct harm caused. Tobacco and alcohol, both legal substances, cause many more deaths per year than drugs. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated during the 1990s that 430,000 people die yearly as a result of smoking cigarettes, and 81,000 die as a result of drinking alcohol, not including motor vehicle deaths caused by drunken driving. Drug use produces 14,000 deaths a year. The vast majority of these fatalities occur, according to SAMHSA mortality data, as a result of heroin, cocaine, and synthetic drug use, with or without the involvement of alcohol. Marijuana, which is preponderantly the drug used by the majority of those classified as drug users, causes few fatalities, and virtually none by itself (Mortality Data from the Drug Abuse Warning Network 2002, SAMHSA, January 2004). Such facts are behind efforts to legalize marijuana.