The correct treatment

The problem with drug abuse in the United States has not gone away. And the rampant use of drugs here has left Mexican border towns resembling a veritable blood bath. These are two of the reasons why it is easy to point out how big of a failure our national drug policies have become. The problem remains so widespread that even a Berkeley student who has never partaken in an innocent celebration of the herbal nature can state she has witnessed the extreme consequences of failed drug policy — Telegraph Avenue and People’s Park provide daily examples.

The sheer number of drug-addled street people in Berkeley and other urban areas should be a daily reminder of the failures of the longtime drug war. But even scenes like that of the Tenderloin in San Francisco, which transforms into a wasteland of crack fiends every night, do nothing to alter the course of the nation’s failed 40-year “war on drugs.” How long will our society tolerate such obvious measures of its own deterioration? A generation? A century? Forever?

If our government really is serious about the war on drugs, it should do away with its futile tactics and attack the problem from an economic perspective.

As with any market, the drug trade functions on the principles of supply and demand. While the president and the D.E.A. understand this, their approach has focused too much energy on the supply side of the drug trade, expending billions of dollars in a remarkably difficult battle of whack-a-mole against various narcotic producers. The drain of resources into fighting coca producers and traffickers takes energy away from what many leaders see as the true root of the problem — the insatiable American demand for drugs.

Instead of splitting resources on supply eradication and mass incarceration, it is time for an all-out approach to remand and control those who create the demand for illegal drugs. It is time to say no to escalating drug violence on our nation’s doorstep and yes to a law enforcement strategy that will eradicate homeland demand.

One might think that it would be unfeasible to build the infrastructure necessary to properly handle the great number of drug criminals, but there are currently hundreds of facilities nationwide already in place that are specifically designed — by name — to put right the illegal drug addict. The chains of addiction are strong, and if there is one thing we know about addicts, it is that they will resort to petty crime and prostitution to feed their addictions. The placement of criminal drug users into the proper facilities will do much to quell their addiction to illegal narcotics — and the demand that comes with it.

Known as “correctional facilities,” these structures already house a great many of the individuals responsible for the huge demand for drugs in our country.

With more focus on capturing and getting the drug demanders the correction they need, we will finally approach the problem from a human standpoint. If it is individual humans driving up the demand for illegal drugs, then those humans need to be found and detained in a facility that can offer them the proper caring, drug-free environment. Treatment options such as imprisonment and supervision provide a stern and complete approach to controlling the environment of the drug offender. And as an added bonus for the common drug convict, sharing space with other more serious and violent offenders could provide him valuable social interaction with individuals outside his normal peer group.

Because the problem is so widespread, resources will need to be devoted to building the appropriate correctional facilities nationwide that will be necessary to accommodate the influx in drug convicts. But just as important as building extra facilities, appropriate personnel related to the correctional process, like guards and other counselor-type positions, such as wardens, will need to be hired to assist the drug addict in his journey towards lasting sobriety.

Kicking drugs is a tall order, but for an offender, the justice system can depend on the knowledge alone that an offender has been given the opportunity to heal in a state or federal correctional facility. A quick glance at their uniform’s lettering reminds the drug offender of their custody within the specific correctional facility, and is all they have to do to remind themselves of their opportunity. All they have to do.

It shouldn’t be ignored that the United States can already lay claim to the highest percent of incarcerated individuals in the world. With 756 per 100,000 in local, state or federal custody, the system is certainly hard at work — but only about one out of five state and federal prisoners are in on drug offenses. So with a concerted effort to house, prosecute and continue to remand into custody the rest of the individuals who consume and create the demand for illegal drugs, we can finally begin to approach the drug problem from the demand side.

Part of the beauty of this approach is that it confronts the issue of drug abuse from an economic and human perspective. While law enforcement can’t completely eliminate demand for illegal drugs, virtually the only measure that can is to make illegal drugs legal. But without the legal authority to imprison drug users, where would they get the treatment they need?