It is a well known fact that there is a significant relationship between drugs and crime. It is also known that many issues contribute to drug use including sociological, psychological, and biological factors. Although it is a relatively new factor, genetics are now being understood that they do have an affect (i.e. predisposition) on drug abuse. Social factors that contribute to drug abuse include an individual's environment. The environment encompasses a wide variety of factors including family, peers, and school. "Drug use/abuse is prevalent and characterized by substantial co morbidity with mental disorders" (http://ajp/psychiatryonline.org/cgi/content/fall/162/8/1491). This of course would fall under the psychological factors. Mood, anxiety, and personality disorders are strongly associated with drug use. Just think about how many American's are under a great deal of stress and are depressed.
Now that the basic issues of drug abuse are out of the way, it is time to talk about how crime, punishment, and our legal system apply. American law is based on a punitive and retributive philosophy. We want the criminal out of society so he can not commit more crimes and we also want him to suffer just like the victim. American's just do not have sympathy for criminals. And when the war on drugs began in the 1980's, punishment was increased dramatically, because once again, American's have no sympathy for criminals including drug addicts. For example, at the end of 2003 the federal prison system held a total of 158,426 prisons of whom 86, 972 (55%) were drug offenders (www.drugwarfacts.org).
American citizens are fed up with crime and drugs, which is fine. However, our sentencing procedures (i.e. mandatory minimums) for low level, non-violent drug offenders are outrageous. Here is a brief list of offenses and time spent in federal prisons for the year of 2000 (www.drugwarfacts.org/prison.htm). Mean Median All Offenses 56.8 mos. 33.0 mos. All Felonies 58.0 mos. 36.0 mos. Violent 63.0 mos. N/A Drug 75.6 mos. 55 mos.
As you can see, drug offenders served the most time including violent crimes. These offenders are low level, non-violent offenders and most of them were charged with possession of a controlled substance, not for the sale or manufacture of the drug.
There is no problem with punishing a drug offender; the problem is that we also need to rehabilitate them as well. I truly believe that if we would put drug offenders in drug treatment, it is less likely the same offenders will recidivate. Untreated substance abuse adds significant costs to communities and society as a whole. Just think about all the property crimes, violent crimes, prison and court expenses, ER visits, child abuse and neglect, foster care, welfare, and unemployment costs to society. "The cost to society of drug abuse in 2002 was estimated at 181 billion, 107 billion of which was associated with drug related crime" (National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), 2006. It is also estimated that for every dollar spent on addiction treatment programs, there is a 4-7 dollar reduction in the cost of drug related crimes (www.nida.nih.gov/Infofacts/cjtreatment.html). If the United States would put as much time, effort, and money into drug treatment