In May, 2005, Iowa passed a law which required pseudoephedrine pills (a prime ingredient in illicit methamphetamine production) be kept behind the counter and sold in limited quantities and to people who had to produce identification and sign a log. The legislation was a "no-brainer" to everyone except the retailers who sold the heck out of cold pills containing pseudoephedrine. Since the effective date of this law, clandestine meth labs in Iowa have been reduced by more than 75 percent. A decent read for those interested in the meth problem is "Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town" by Nick Reding. Perhaps the only good to come from this past decade of meth abuse has been this: It has caused some (politicians included) to question if not completely discard the "war against drugs" as a workable solution to the problem. Young people tend to do stupid things like experimenting with drugs. In the case of powerfully addictive drugs like meth, it is easy to see how use becomes addiction and results in manufacturing or distributing (so as to afford the drug). The result is
a war against our children---with the typical outcome being lengthy incarceration.
Enter Drug Courts. The idea behind drug court is stated by the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) as follows:
Drug court diverts non-violent, substance abusing offenders from prison and jail into treatment. By increasing direct supervision of offenders, coordinating public resources, and expediting case processing, drug court can help break the cycle of criminal behavior, alcohol and drug use, and incarceration. A decade of research indicates that drug court reduces crime by lowering rearrest and conviction rates, improvČing substance abuse treatment outcomes, and reuniting families, and also produces measurable cost benefits. http://www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov/enforce/drugcourt.html
Reports on drug courts are mixed. Norman L. Reimer, Executive Director and Publisher of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) "Champion" magazine reviewed two recent reports (The Justice Policy Institute's Addicted to Courts: How a Growing Dependence on Drug Courts Impacts People and Communities and The Drug Policy Alliance report Drug Courts Are Not The Answer: Toward a Health-Centered Approach to Drug Use). In his article Addicted to a Flawed Solution: Drug Courts Revisited (April, 2011, Champion), Reimer says the DPA report underscores the magnitude of the problem.
"In 2009, 21.8 million people, which is 8.7 percent of the population over age 12, reported using illicit drugs. With about 7.8 million of those surveyed indicating that they need treatment, the DPA report notes that this represents more potential patients than those suffering from lung, breast, and prostate cancer combined. It borders on the delusional to think that a criminal justice system can address this need. But that has been the nation's primary approach. Each year police make more than a million arrests for drug offenses, and hundreds of thousands are sent to our nation's jails and prisons. The direct social and economic costs of these policies are staggering." Reimer concludes that "...it is time to underscore NACDL's fundamental position: drug abuse and addiction are health problems. They are not criminal problems. Drug abusers are someone's sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, colleagues and neighbors. They are not inherently bad or evil. They are not criminals and should not be treated as such. A serious national conversation about the merits of decriminalization is long overdue."
A final thought about abuse of legal products. Spencer Police Chief Mark Lawson says that there is a present problem with adolescents huffing compressed air inside area retail establishments. "Huffing" is inhaling things like gasoline, "dust-off" compressed air key-board cleaners, and other aerosols. It is a terribly dangerous and unhealthy thing to do. Dextromethorphan (found in over-the-counter cough medications) is another product which is easily obtained and is abused (at great health risks). Recently "bath salts" have been in the news (and the DEA has named them a "drug of concern"). Parents should educate themselves about these developments and should be on the lookout for such things as empty cough syrup bottles or cans of "dust-off". Should we not consider this a health problem rather than a new criminal problem? Now go hug your children. Bob Dylan turned 70 yesterday and wow.....the times they sure are a changin'.