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Policy Statements- The Problem of Drug Abuse

In the past several years California has more than doubled the number of drug arrests and obtained a 293% increase in the number of convictions for drug offenses. At the same time probation has been limited for serious drug offenses and the punishment for many controlled substance offenses has been increased.

Partially as a result of California's crackdown on drug offenses our prison population doubled between 1983 and 1989. Even with the eight new state prisons under construction or authorized by the taxpayers our prison system is projected to be at 213% of capacity by 1994. In the next decade it will be extremely difficult to house the number of drug offenders entering the system.

Despite the above efforts, drug crimes and related gang violence have continued to increase. A significant factor in this increase is the neglect of many of the underlying causes of drug abuse.

For example, the number of children living in poverty in California increased by 47% between 1981 and 1987. The proportion of low-wage jobs in our largest urban area has doubled while job and educational opportunities for young people and minorities have declined.

Although California incarcerates youth at twice the national rate, young people are entering the drug market and joining gangs at increasingly higher rates and at a surprisingly early age. The most promising long-term solution to the drug problem is to reduce the demand for drugs by providing meaningful economic, educational and social opportunities for young people and residents of urban areas.

The following should be included in the National Drug Control Strategy,

  1. A drug education program which includes employment counseling, job training and placement, and other economic incentives as an alternative to the drug trade.
  2. An infusion of federal funds to improve education, medical care, housing and employment opportunities in deprived economic areas.
  3. An allocation formula which guarantees that funding for law enforcement and drug education programs will go to the areas with the most serious drug and gang problems.
  4. Involvement of local law enforcement as well as local community groups, including organizations representing minorities, in the formulation of community drug treatment and education programs.
  5. Funding for prenatal substance abuse treatment. Currently 17,000 to 30,000 babies are born each year in California having been exposed to drugs in the womb. Many of these children are born with mental or physical disabilities which will result in hundreds of thousands of dollars in long-terms costs to care for these children. A small investment in prenatal care and drug treatment will result in a significant reduction in the social and economic consequences which will otherwise result.

There are many ways of approaching the problem of drug abuse. It is clear that the drug epidemic will not be eliminated, and will probably grow worse, unless we attack the socioeconomic problems that have caused so many young people to turn to drugs or the drug trade.

The federal government should take the lead in recognizing the link between economic and social problems and drug abuse and develop a National Drug Control Strategy which reflects this reality.

--drafted by James R. Provenza

FORUM, SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 1989, Vol.16, No.5

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