A drug policy based on prohibition and intensive enforcement has generated an epidemic of adverse health outcomes that disproportionately affects African Americans, according to an article published in the January/February issue of the journal Public Health Reports.
The author, Ernest Drucker, Ph.D., Professor of Epidemiology and Social Medicine at Montefiore Medical Center/Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and an internationally recognized authority on drug treatment and public health policy, points out that in terms of its public health consequences, our current policy is clearly failing.
Using findings from more than 25 years of US government studies, the article reveals that, despite some declines in drug use since 1979, cocaine-related and heroin-related emergency department visits and overdose deaths have climbed sharply. The data show that even as the numbers of drug users have declined, the rates of adverse health effects have dramatically increased: as the "war on drugs" has intensified, drug use has become more dangerous. "The cure has only worsened the disease," writes Drucker.
According to the article, the African American community bears a disproportionate burden of these health consequences. While the rates of illicit drug use are similar for black, Hispanic, and white Americans, African Americans are 3.5 times as likely to die of drug-related overdoses as white Americans and have 7.5 times the rate of drug-related emergency visits. Drucker attributes these disparities to the differential enforcement of drug laws: for example, despite comparable rates of drug use, African Americans are almost four times as likely as white Americans to be arrested for drug offenses.
"The data show that the most negative health consequences of drug use are not evenly distributed -- they fall most heavily on those who experience the highest rates of drug enforcement, African Americans."
"Drugs can certainly cause harm, but our selective application of punitive drug prohibition laws is at least as dangerous," Drucker suggests. He contends that current US drug policy is itself responsible for worsening many of the social and public health ills that are usually seen as resulting from the drug problem. By criminalizing drugs, we force drug users into a life of crime, increase their risk of infectious diseases and other health threats, and expose others around them to increasing levels of violence. The author concludes that, by emphasizing criminal sanctions over treatment, "drug laws and their massive, cruel imposition on millions of young men and women," have destabilized our poorest communities and endangered society as a whole.
The full text of the article will be available on the World Wide Web at www.of-course.com/drugrealities.