With every busted dealer and cut supply line, the DEA is one step closer to putting a cork on the flow of drugs into the United States. However, while it does not diminish the value of the DEA’s hard work, illegal substances like heroin and methamphetamines still find their way into the hands of Americans. Until the flood of product from other countries and suppliers within the U.S. can be stopped, the DEA must consider an aspect of drug crime that is not always brought up, addiction.
Regardless of a user’s intentions, addictive substances can easily overcome the will of even the most resistant people. The DEA and local law enforcement can punish these addicts every time they commit a crime, but addiction cannot be punished away. Addicts often require specialized treatment to be able to step away from life destroying drugs like heroin.
However, both the social stigma associated with drug use and the legal penalties for possession put a wall between addicts and government agencies that might be able to help free them from their addiction. Furthermore, many addicts require medical equipment, things like needles that when mishandled can put users at serious risk of contracting infectious diseases. Out of fear of being caught and punished, many addicts resort to less than reputable sources for their needles.
As a result, needle sharing is the number one cause of AIDS infection in the United States. Worldwide, intravenous drug users are 28 times more likely to contract AIDS according to the New York Times, not to mention diseases like hepatitis and tetanus.
To combat this, some states have established clinics that offer clean needles and methadone, a drug used to help addicts wean themselves off of dangerous substances. 30 currently allow this process and have seen mixed results among their drug using populations. Rates of AIDS infection have dropped in these states and in other countries that have established similar clinics, and most have seen a drop in drug use as more addicts find themselves in a position to receive treatment.
As long as illegal drugs are finding their way into the U.S., the DEA has no choice but to consider the most appropriate way to handle addicts. Balancing punitive measures with medical treatment is a crucial part of aiding addicts and lowering demand for illegal drugs nationwide.