Prevention vs. Enforcement

A question that has been at the heart of many discussions about drug abuse is whether prevention or prosecution should be the government’s focus. Most people understand the necessity of both, but it isn’t always possible to do both effectively.

States are always struggling over the decision of whether to devote more money toward preventing drug abuse, or toward keeping drug dealers and users off the streets by enforcing drug laws. Of course, we’d like to see an end to drug abuse and we know prevention is important, but many people can’t justify letting the guilty go unpunished because we let down our guard on the law enforcement side of the issue.

Enforcement is Important

If you look through the newspaper, you’ll see story after story of drug abuse and the crimes that are caused because of it. Drug addicts, desperate for drugs, will steal or do anything to get money for drugs. Drug dealers shoot others that are a threat to them or their business. People under the influence of drugs get involved with domestic violence or cause accidents because they are drugged. A great majority of all crimes that are committed in this country are linked to drugs somehow.

That’s why it is important to keep enforcing our laws. If we make it illegal to possess a certain substance, we should be ready with the right amount of law enforcement to carry that law out. Some people, looking at every possibility, have suggested that instead of punishing possession of drugs, we only punish criminal behavior caused by drugs. In that case, we might as well legalize all drugs, because a law that is not enforced causes confusion and disorder.

Prevention is Key

Somehow it will be necessary to find a way to break the drug abuse cycle. Our communities devote too much time and energy dealing with the negative effects of drugs. That’s why prevention makes so much sense. We need to reach people before they become addicted to drugs or get involved in criminal drug activity. This can be done through prevention campaigns and other outreach tools for communities.

This is an understandably difficult thing to carry out, because coming up with money for prevention means other areas have to go without funds. If we take money from jails and prisons, we run the risk of seeming too lenient on drug crimes. On the other hand, many of the prisoners who serve their time go right back on the streets doing drugs again, in essence wasting all the money that has been spent on law enforcement for them in the first place.

Deciding where to invest the states’ limited money does become a balancing act. In the long run, drug prevention is much more economical because it can keep the crimes from being committed in the first place. Thankfully, there are many organizations that are working along with government agencies to help with prevention.

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Take our free, 5-minute substance abuse self-assessment below if you think you or someone you love might be struggling with substance abuse. This evaluation consists of 11 yes or no questions that are designed to be used as an informational tool to assess the severity and probability of a substance use disorder. The test is free, confidential, and no personal information is needed to receive the result. Please be aware that this evaluation is not a substitute for advice from a medical doctor.