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September 1, 2014, 5:22 pm

U.S. needs ‘3rd way’ to fight drugs

In an ongoing effort to significantly change America’s approach to combating the scourge of illegal drugs, the Obama Administration just released the results of a new study that shows that the majority of people arrested for crimes also test positive for narcotics.

The study, conducted last year in ten major cities, found that the majority of adult males arrested for crimes tested positive for an illegal drug at the time they were detained by police. The highest percentage of these males were African Americans, and the Obama Administration’s drug czar, R. Gil Kerlikowske, said that legalizing certain narcotics isn’t the answer — but neither is a heavy-handed law enforcement War on Drugs approach.

“Our policies reject both these extremes in favor of a ‘third way’ to approach drug control,” Kerlikowske said in a prepared statement. “The ‘third way’ approach deals in facts, not dogma — and relies on research, not ideology. Here’s what the facts show: Drug use and related crimes strain the resources of this country. The latest evidence comes from the 2011 Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring Annual Report (ADAM II), which tests for drugs in adult males arrested for a wide variety of crimes in 10 sites across the country. This study found a majority of adult males arrested for crimes tested positive for an illegal drug at the time of their arrest. The data was obtained from individuals booked for all types of crimes, from misdemeanors to felonies, and not just those arrested on drug charges. This report highlights the urgent need for institutions at the federal, state and local level to come together to support proven reforms that work to break the vicious cycle of drug use, crime, incarceration and re-arrest.”

According to Kerlikowske, the study shows a clear link between crimes and drugs and the fact that substance abuse is one of the driving forces behind crime. The study focused on ten major American cities, Atlanta, Ga.; Charlotte, N.C.; Chicago, Ill.; Denver, Colo.; Indianapolis, Ind.; Minneapolis, Minn.; New York, N.Y.; Portland, Ore.; Sacramento, Calif.; and Washington, D.C., The subjects were tested for the presence of cocaine, marijuana, opiates, amphetamines/methamphetamine, Darvon, PCP, methadone, barbiturates and benzodiazepines.

The study was conducted between the years 2007 and 2011. In most of the study sites, Black males showed a higher percentage of arrests and drug abuse. In Atlanta for example, the percentage of Black males arrested who tested positive for at least one of the narcotics was 81.8 percent in 2007, 77.4 percent in 2008, 84.7 percent in 2009, 81.2 percent in 2010 and 78.3 percent in 2011. For white males in that same city, the percentages were significantly lower for the same years: 9.3 percent, 12.2 percent, 10.6 percent, 9.7 percent and 13.0 percent. In Washington, D.C., from 2007 to 2011, the percentages for Black males were 85.3 percent, 85.3 percent, 79.0 percent, 86.2 percent and 86.1 percent. For white males in the same city and for the same years, the figures again showed a marked difference; 7.4 percent, 1.0 percent, 23.3 percent, 3.5 percent and 3.2 percent.

“The heaviest concentration of African-American arrestees was in the Southern and Mid-Atlantic states, with 65 percent or greater African-American arrestees,” the report stated. “There has been no significant change in the racial and ethnic distribution of arrestees across sites since 2010.”

“These data confirm that we must address our drug problem as a public health issue, not just a criminal justice issue,” said Kerlikowske. “Decades of research and experience show us crime and drug use are linked, and too often underlying substance use disorders are the driving force of criminal activity taking place in our communities. While the criminal justice system will always serve a vital role in protecting public safety, we cannot simply arrest our way out of the drug problem, instead, we must also support evidenced-based programs and policies that work to break the vicious cycle of drug use and crime, reduce recidivism and make our communities healthier and safer.”

The study also showed that more than half of those tested were unemployed, more than half were uninsured and at least 10 percent were homeless.

“I’m not really surprised by these findings,” said Chad Dion Lassiter, MSW, president of Black Men at Penn School of Social Work, Inc. “We all know the War on Drugs has been a failure and really was a war on the Black and Hispanic communities as a means to fuel the prison industrial complex. I think the Obama Administration is taking steps in the right direction, because we need more rehabilitative and therapeutic measures if we’re going to break the cycle of drugs and crime. We need to focus on psychotherapy and more social workers to help prepare inmates for re-entry. Re-entry should start the day they start serving a sentence.”