Diagnosis for Democracy
Insights into the State of Our Union
A Blog by Rob Tenery, MD


The Drug Epidemic is Symptomatic of Much Bigger Problems

By Rob Tenery, MD on May 2, 2016

On Friday April 22, television commentator Bill O’Reilly devoted much of his program to the epidemic of hard drugs that is ravaging this country. This submission encapsulates the gravity of the problems and tries to explain how it has become a political pariah that is eating away this country’s core values.

In 2014 there were 28,647 opioid deaths that is an increase of 200% since 2000. According to the federal government statistics, from 2013-2014, heroin use has increased 51%. Then there is the additional problem of prescription painkillers, such as Percocet and Oxycontin. These legal drugs have addicted millions along with a flood of cheap heroin.

“The epidemic is underway and few people understand how severe it is and what to do about it,” said O’Reilly.  “It is stunning that our culture has evolved to a point where the sale and use of hard narcotics is acceptable.” O’Reilly feels President Obama is leading the way by classifying drug sales as ‘non-violent’ crimes and recently reducing prison sentences for some of the ‘heavy-weight’ drug dealers. “That’s a signal to the country. It may be illegal to sell drugs, but it’s not all that bad, and the left is generally supporting that madness,” he says.

Several polls reveal that the majority of Americans now favor the legalization of pot. Although marijuana is not as dangerous as hard drugs, its acceptance sends a signal. Cocaine and heroin are not new to the American culture, but the increased interest began shortly after the Vietnam War, when some vets returned who were addicted to heroin, then called ‘horse’.

When questioned about the connection between illicit drugs and criminal behavior, the Manhattan Institute’s Heather McDonald feels, “It’s violent crime that is driving our prisons. When we didn’t have the incarceration rate that we have today, we had much higher levels of violent crime and the primary beneficiaries of the drop in violent crime has been black law-abiding inner-city residents.” McDonald went on to explain that less than 4% of people in state prisons are there for possession of drugs and only 12% who are in there for dealing drugs. In federal prisons, the percentage is much higher--- 50% are there for dealing drugs, but Federal prisons only comprise13% total of the total prison population. 54% of people in prison are there for violent crimes, and most of those people have very long criminal histories. Even people who are arrested for violent crime, 60% end up back on the street. Only 3% of all violent felonies and property offenders end up in prison, according to McDonald’s interview.

Claims have been raised during the Democratic Presidential primaries that tough criminal sentences have harmed America. In 1994, violent crime was out of control. The Federal Crime Bill, signed into law in 1994 by President Bill Clinton, increased federal penalties for many crimes.1 According to McDonald, “ What I think was more important is data-driven proactive policing. It happened in 1994 in New York City where the concept of using data was used incredibly efficiently to target crime hotspots. Part of that came with ‘stop-and frisk’, but stop-and frisk is gone.”2

If there had not been a federal crackdown, the Manhattan Institute studies estimate that 129,000 black Americans would be dead today. Although crime has dropped to historic lows in the USA that fact does not seem to have been appreciated by the Democratic Party candidate Bernie Sanders, who stated, “We need to end the so-called war on drugs which has resulted in a disproportionate number of African-Americans being arrested.”

African Americans are now 13.2% of the population but constitute 43.5% of the incarcerated populations. They are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of whites. Together, African American and Hispanics comprised 58% of all prisoners in 2008, even though African Americans and Hispanics make up approximately one quarter of the US population. 1 in 100 African American women are in prison. Nationwide, African Americans represent 26% of juvenile arrests. 5 times as many Whites are using drugs as are African Americans, yet African Americans are sent to prison for drug offenses at 10 times the rate of Whites, because they are convicted for dealing.3

“Why doesn’t the media seek the other side of this problem?” asked O’Reilly. “Racism sells,” claims McDonald. “It is a powerful narrative that is put out there by the universities, the advocates, and the criminology profession. So there is an industry that’s invested in saying that America is a racist place and they use crime to bolster that theory.”

References:

1.    On September 13, 1994, President Clinton signed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 (the Federal Crime bill). This legislation: Increases federal penalties for many crimes, including adding new offenses that can be punished by death. Makes a variety of offenses new federal crimes, such as drive-by shootings and carjacking. Increases funding for federal law enforcement, including significant increases for the Border Patrol and Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). Provides federal funding for state and local law enforcement, crime prevention programs, and construction of new state prisons.

2.    Wikipedia Stop-and-frisk in New York City

3.    NAACP.org





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