Of the fifty states that make up the United States of America, New Hampshire is ranked number forty-two based on size in population, totaling at just over one million residents. However, New Hampshire's largest city, Manchester, has the highest overdose rate in the entire country. In a span of ten months in 2016, Manchester had suffered from 639 overdoses (NH1 News). That calculates out to be sixty-four overdoses a month, sixteen overdoses a week, and three overdoses a day. This is just a small look into the growing drug epidemic the United States is facing. As this issue becomes more prominent in today's world of politics, there is more focus on addiction and substance abuse. However, the necessary precautions may not been taken to combat this problem inside the jails and prisons across the United States. In order to decrease the issues regarding the current drug epidemic, there must be changes made to the mandated incarceration system required for the punishment of addicts who commit crimes related to substance abuse.
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As the drug epidemic continues, there has been a target put on inmates who have or currently are, struggling with addiction or substance abuse. A common misconception is the difference between drug or alcohol abuse and dependence. Drug abuse is the "hinge on the harmful consequences of repeated use but do not include the compulsive use, tolerance, or withdrawal symptoms that can be signs of addiction" (NIH). Contrary to drug abuse, drug dependence is the mental illness in which a person replaces their normal needs and desires with priorities connected to the use of a drug or alcohol, otherwise known as addiction (NIH). The overlooked reality of addiction is that it is a mental health issue.
In order to put the drug epidemic that the United States of America is facing as a nation, it is imperative to put it into comparison to the rest of the world. Currently, the United States of America has less than 5% of world's population. However, the country takes the prize for having ingested two-thirds of the world's illegal drugs. On top of that, we take almost one-fourth of the world's prisoners. With about 2.3 million inmates in prisons and jails across the United States, 1.5 million meet DSM-IV, or Diagnostic and Statistical Manual and Mental Disorders Fourth Edition, criteria for substance-related abuse or addiction (Columbia). As for the rest of the incarcerated population, 458,000 inmates were reported to have a connection between their committed crime and alcohol or an illegal substance (CASA). Clearly, the use of illegal drugs in the United States is not only becoming an epidemic but a server cultural problem.
One, of many, contributing factors to the drug epidemic in the United States is the repeated offenders that continue to abuse drugs or alcohol once there are released from jail. This is especially true for an inmate who struggles with an addiction. According to an article released by the Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights, most inmates who have a substance abuse issue relapse, or return to previous harmful activity after a long period of improvement, once they are released and placed back into the community. Not only are addicted inmates likely to relapse, but substance-involved inmates are also more likely to be incarcerated again after being released compared to inmates who were not involved in illegal drug or alcohol activities (CASA). This is a problem all on its own, but can also lead to further issues if it continues to happen.
Without further treatment for the incarcerated addicts that are crowding jails and prisons across the United States, the crime rate is only going to continue to increase. As a nation, the United States already struggles with the crime rates in its major cities. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 56.6% of inmates said they did not have a mental health problem still were dependent on drugs or alcohol (Office of Justice Systems). Even though many claimed to not have a mental health issue, they still can be tested for one due to their dependence on a substance. However, with or with a mental health issue, releasing someone into the community with a withstanding drug issue can only hinder on the fight against rising crime rates.
In order to properly discus the population impacted by addictions of the incarcerated people, it is essential to first discus the demographic factors of substance abuse across all Americans. According to a survey completed in 2017 by the American Addiction Centers, the groups of people who are effected by drug abuse and addiction is surprising. The survey reported that 5.1 million Americans age eighteen to twenty-six had a substance abuse disorder, which reports as about 14.8% of that population. However, approximately 13.6 million adults age 26 or older struggled with a substance abuse disorder, totaling at 6.4% of this age group. As for the elderly Americans, more than 1 million adults aged 65 or older struggled with a substance abuse disorder, which is almost two-thirds of the elderly population (Thomas).
While the age statistics of Americans who suffer from a substance abuse disorder may be alarming, the ethnicity statistics may be just as surprising. According to the same survey published by the American Addiction Centers, American Indians and Alaska Natives age 12 and older had the highest rate of substance abuse disorders in the country, that figure being 12.8% of their population. Following American Indians and Alaska Natives is Whites, who had a substance abuse disorder rate of 7.7% of their population. Next, 6.8% African Americans struggled with substance abuse disorders. Very closely following African Americans is Hispanics or Latinos at 6.6%, then Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders at 4.6%. The lowest rate of substance abuse disorders in a specific ethnicity is from Asian Americas, where 3.8% of the population suffered from such disorders (Thomas).
Looking at the statistics above, it can be alarming, but also reassuring that most of the country’s population is clean of drugs. However, the problem of addiction across incarcerated people stands tall. Of the 2.3 million people that populate American jails and prisons, more than 65% meet the physical and psychological standards and criteria for addictions. That equals out to more than 3 in every 5 people in this country’s jails and prisons have a substance abuse disorder of some kind. Every 3 in 5 people, who are sitting in cells across the United States, struggling every day with a mental illness are, not receiving treatment. According to an article related to the survey from American Addiction Centers, written by the same author Dr. Scot Thomas, addiction is considered a highly treatable disease where recovery is attainable (Thomas). If most of the people in our jails and prison suffer from this disease, which is very treatable, why are they not receiving treatment?
From a sociological standpoint, there are a few theories that can explain the epidemic of addiction in the criminal justice system of the United States, as well as explain the importance of treatment. The first theory to discuss is the functionalist theory. The functionalist theory displays the functions and dysfunctions of something in order to maintain social stability. In this sense, the use of illegal and legal drugs have provided some functions in society such as provide jobs for employees of the criminal justice system like police officers, court officials, and prison workers. However, illegal and legal drug addiction has some dysfunctions, including the negative effects it has on users, abusers, and society as a whole (Barkan).
The second sociological theory that can be used to describe the epidemic of addiction in the incarcerated population is the conflict theory. The conflict theory emphasizes the negative effects an event or issue has on social equality. This theory provides framework for the demographics of drug abuse. For example, there is a higher volume of drug abuse in poor urban areas, which results from poverty, racial inequality, and other unfortunate conditions. It has been shown that the people that inhibit these places turn to drugs as a way to cope with such horrible circumstances of life, or even as a source of income without proper education (Barkan). Due to the penalities of drug use, these ideas are often taken into the criminal justice system with the person who has been convicted of the crime. Thus, making drug abuse more prevalent in prisons and jails.
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The third sociological theory that can be used to describe the epidemic of addiction in the incarcerated population is symbolic interactionism theory. The theory of symbolic interactionism stresses the interaction of individuals and how they take that interaction and interpret it themselves. This is a huge factor to consider when discussing the sociological view of drug abuse, especially in the criminal and incarcerated populations. Drug abuse can be described as a behavior, and can be caused by an individual’s interaction with someone who previously used or is currently using drugs (Barkan).
For example, a high school graduate could be close friends with a current high school sophomore. Said sophomore looks up to said graduate, and thinks he is cool and interesting. When said sophomore starts seeing said graduate using drugs constantly, and developing an abusive habit, the sophomore then associates drugs use and abuse with being cool and interesting, because that’s what characteristics he sees in said graduate. Shortly after making this connection, the sophomore then develops the abusive drug habit and becomes addicted. Frankly, this couldn’t be more true for someone who is incarcerated. Because the majority of people in prisons and jails have a substance abuse disorder, inmates are constantly being surrounded by that black cloud. Therefore, this then makes the importance of treatment so prevalent in the people who populate our prisons.
Since clarifying the sociological connection between the need for treatment of addicted people of the incarcerated population, it is prevalent why this topic is so important. As a nation, it is clear that action needs to be taken to fight the ongoing war on drugs. Recently, there has been a target on the back of addiction and its role in the ongoing drug epidemic. The important thing to remember is that addiction is a mental disease, and it is not easy for an addict to just stop using drugs. However, knowing the severity of the issue is vital in trying to combat the epidemic. Because addiction is a mental disorder, it requires treatment. For those who have committed a drug crime, their treatment is a punishable amount of time in prison. Especially for an addict who is calling out for help, how is it helpful to them to be surrounded by many other people who have the same issue, in a setting full of degrading tension and anger? With the overwhelming number of people who become repeat offenders, the necessary form of action is to provide an environment in which they can overcome the disease that took over their life.
Not only is the treatment of addiction important to the health of addicts, but to the well-being of the common people and their economy. It's no secret that the United States has become more dangerous of the past several decades, but there have been issues with the economy as well. Due to the increase in crime, there has been a need for funding from the taxpayers as well. In some states, the necessary action to fight increasing crime and the need for more funding from the taxpayers has already been taken. In Kentucky and Texas, there have very successful programs put into place that has put addicts through programs that are alternatives to incarceration, while saving taxpayers millions of dollars (NADCP).
Even with great programs in place in a few states, this issue needs to be fixed nation-wide. Not only should those programs be expanded to cover every part of the United States of America, but there are also ways it can be expanded and improved. For example, it is important to have rehabilitation available to everyone of all ages. Many programs will turn away teens who need or want help, but by supplying an incarceration alternative to fit the needs of addicts of various ages will be extremely helpful. Also, it is important to implement education into school systems across the country. Making a course on drug and alcohol abuse mandatory for students going through an educational system has been proven to lower the chances of substance abuse or addiction in the future. Lastly, the punishment for drug dealers has to be stricter. Because drug dealers do their business illegally, and the fact of how deadly drug abuse can be, it makes sense to sentence convicted dealers to harsh punishments. By adding those amendments to the current
- Barkan, Steven E. Social problems: Continuity and change. Washington, D.C.: Saylor Academy, 2012.
- Thomas, Scot. "Addiction Statistics: Drug & Substance Abuse Statistics." American Addiction Centers. 2019. 01 Aug. 2019 .
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