Ever since the United States’ heavy increase of regulatory policies in the 1970s, the “war on drugs” has been defined as a tumultuous struggle to stop rampant trends of smuggling and addiction. Over the years and decades, this struggle progressed and retreated on many different fronts. The United States now has the highest incarceration rate in the world and has spent over 51 billion dollars each year to continue the fight on the war against drugs, as it has consumed a very high population of women.
In an effort to get an idea of where certain groups of people fit into this national issue, it is necessary to start with the victims. While illegal substances range from marijuana to cocaine and much more, the most current statistics show that heroin-related deaths almost tripled between 2010 and 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). According to the Arizona Department of Health Services, the number of heroin overdoses increased a drastic 43 percent to a rate of two per 100,000 in 2013. Also in recent years, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has also turned their efforts against the rising trends of illegal prescription drug use and abuse. These recent trends of prescription drug use among pregnant women have been increasing at staggering rates, with numbers doubling and tripling in the last ten years as well.
In short, the war on drugs in the United States has resulted in conducting research and releasing useful information that would encourage people to stop using and get help. But when all is said and done, there is still the dangerous potential for drug abuse to develop among certain populations, specifically women.
An exposé this past February detailed many fallacies and shortcomings in the current state of managing substance-related problems, with a large focus on the country’s incarceration system. After visiting a group of women in an Arizona prison by the name of Tent City, a journalist saw firsthand just how psychologically scarring the system can be for those labeled as drug addicts. With the unbearable environment of incarceration hammered into women’s psyche, adapting to normal life after being released can be almost impossible, leading to a spiraling trend of relapse and repeat arrest.
Current advocates for women with drug addiction also express their personal adversity with not only the drugs they were addicted to, but the ineffective treatment methods they underwent. For example, Amanda Bean, a reformed drug addict and now advocate, has brought to light how difficult it was to find a doctor to prescribe methadone or buprenorphine, which are drugs that aid in recovery. In addition, she also believes there should be more treatment programs in prison, which were non-existent when she was behind bars.
The war on drugs is indeed an effort with its share of shortcomings, but there is still a light at the end of the tunnel for struggling women. In addition to growing instances of advocacy for at-risk populations, many programs have been recently established to inspire former substance users with the much needed confidence in their own ability. A six to nine-month sobriety program made possible by the Women’s Therapeutic Court in Dayton, Ohio was recently publicized for awarding eight women who successfully graduated. In addition to rewarding previously addicted women, the Women’s Therapeutic Court also helps women get out of relationships with men who are involved with drugs, and help them overcome sexual abuse they may have endured in the past.
Also during an equal rights rally in Los Angeles this March, director Susan Burton highlighted the ideals of her non-profit organization, A New Way of Life, which provides housing to formerly incarcerated women. She declared that, “All we wanted was to have a job, be skilled, be trained and be ethical.”
On a country-wide scale, the National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW) seeks to protect the rights and human dignity of all females. The group addresses pregnant women, mothers and those who are most vulnerable including women who are low income and minorities. One of the NAPW’s particularly declared battles is to also expand the drug war to women’s wombs, and is making new allies and building new strengths from a broad-based and integrated approach.
All in all, the war on drugs is one that ebbs and flows with the tides of politics and local communities. While a lot of neglect still exists and many established systems have proven dangerously obsolete, smaller groups have taken it upon themselves to make a difference. There is still a lot of work to be done and this world needs more activists to inspire new waves of recovery to begin.
Written by Lee Yates, Sovereign Health Group writer
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