Substance abuse is a serious problem, and governments worldwide adopt various policies to fight it. The situation is especially dire in the US, where the drug death rates hit a record level of 100,000 per year (Keating & Bernstein, 2021, para. 1). The Covid-19 pandemic is widely acknowledged as the major cause (Keating & Bernstein, 2021). However, the problem is not new, and other developed countries seem to handle it better. European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction compared the annual drug-induced death rate in the EU countries, Norway, and Turkey in 2019 (as cited in Keating & Bernstein, 2021). The maximum level was registered in Norway and amounted to 5 per 100,000 people, which was about four times less than in the US (as cited in Keating & Bernstein, 2021). Although US policies concerning substance abuse do not seem effective, they are worth studying to identify their strong and weak points and find the optimal improvements or alternatives.
The Current US Administrative Policy Concerning Substance Abuse
The US has a set of laws and regulations directed at preventing and treating substance abuse disorders. The federal agency responsible for developing these policies is the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Their most recent legislative act is the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities (2018) (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2022). The abbreviation stands for Substance Use-Disorder Prevention that Promotes Opioid Recovery and Treatment (SAMHSA, 2022). It promotes addiction medicine education, develops standardized, coordinated, and comprehensive procedures for addiction medicine delivery, and makes evidence-based treatment more available (SAMHSA, 2022). The SUPPORT Act relies on two other laws adopted in 2016: the 21st Century Cures Act and the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) (SAMHSA, 2022). CARA launched new evidence-based drug treatment, prescription monitoring, interventions, and educational prevention programs and expanded the existing ones (SAMHSA, 2022). The Cures Act covers the federal involvement and accountability for mental health disorders and the promotion of evidence-based mental and substance use disorders treatment and prevention programs (SAMHSA, 2022). These acts show the current administrative substance abuse policy in the US.
The presented acts demonstrate several trends in American administrative drug abuse control policy. Although illegal substance use is still criminalized, the US government seems to focus on providing opportunities for the treatment of drug addicts rather than their punishment. Moreover, the preventive measures are based on educative and enlightening tactics. SAMHSA acknowledges the importance of research and evidence-based strategies in fighting substance abuse. The Affordable Care Act of 2010, which provides special health insurance protections for citizens with mental or substance use disorders, also aligns with the trend not to marginalize drug addicts seeking help (SAMHSA, 2022). In brief, all recent laws built a unified strategy aimed to decrease the drug overdose rate in the US.
Possible Improvements and Alternatives
Despite all the SAMHSA’s and governmental efforts, several hindrances impede substance abuse reduction in the US. Firstly, the Covid-19 pandemic adds multiple extra difficulties that complicate the administrative policy implementation and the evaluation of its effectiveness (Keating & Bernstein, 2021). Secondly, Meisel et al. (2019) see the problem’s root in the lack of coordination and partnership between researchers and policymakers, which they see as crucial for solving the substance abuse crisis. Thirdly, administration medical expert Rahul Gupta emphasizes the uneven distribution of the overdose antidote naloxone across the country (Keating & Bernstein, 2021). He urges all states to adopt a law that ensures unified anti-addiction medicines distribution procedures (Keating & Bernstein, 2021). These are several obstacles policymakers have to consider while improving substance use regulations.
The drug abuse crisis in the US is acknowledged on the federal level. President Biden’s administration announced it as their top priority and highlighted their current focus on prevention and treatment programs, including naloxone and test strip distribution (Bernstein & Diamond, 2021). Politicians, researchers, and criminal justice experts, also share their views on the problem and suggest various improvements to existing regulations or new alternative ways to fight lethal addiction. They range from the decriminalization of drug consumption to a review of healthcare professionals’ attitudes toward substance users (Bernstein & Diamond, 2021). One of the most popular and controversial initiatives is establishing safe injection sites. Rosenstein (2018), the deputy attorney general of the United States, finds the idea dangerous and believes it would only increase drug abuse. Sundaram et al. (2018), members of the Massachusetts Student Coalition on Addiction who helped organize safe injection sites, argue that this measure does not “normalize drug use” (para. 3). They state it gives sick people the opportunity to ask for help (Sundaram et al., 2018). Thus, some suggestions align with general administrative policy and aim to improve it, while others suggest changing strategy.
To conclude, the drug death rate in the US is significantly higher than in other developed countries, which makes the US substance use policy a relevant research subject. Several laws focus on improving federal coordination and response to the issue, expanding access to high-quality medical help, and increasing awareness of pertinent research findings. The current policy aims to stop the marginalization of people with substance use disorders who seek medical help and increase their support. However, it does not seem to be particularly effective due to the beginning of the pandemic, lack of coordination between researchers and policymakers, and uneven distribution of overdose antidotes. Thus, society sees the need for further enhancement of certain policies or adopting alternative strategies in fighting substance abuse.
Keating, D. & Bernstein, L. (2021). 100,000 Americans died of drug overdoses in 12 months during the pandemic. The Washington Post. Web.
Bernstein, L. & Diamond, D. (2021). How can the U.S. reduce drug overdose deaths? A wide range of ideas awaits Biden. The Washington Post. Web.
Meisel, Z.F., Mitchell, J., Polsky, D., Boualam, N., McGeoch, E., Weiner, J., Miclette, M., Purtle, J., Schackman, B., & Cannuscio, C. C. (2019). Strengthening partnerships between substance use researchers and policy makers to take advantage of a window of opportunity. Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention, and Policy, 14(12). Web.
Rosenstein, R. J. (2018). Fight drug abuse, don’t subsidize it. The New York Times. Web.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2022). Laws and regulations. Web.
Sundaram, S., Kim, A., & Koenigs, K. (2018). Time to change our drug policies. The New York Times. Web.