Drug Laws in America

Misuse of drugs is a public health concern in the United States, and legislators are constantly trying to contain the problem. In 2013, a national survey estimated that as many as 24.6 million Americans aged 12 and older had abused drugs in the month the survey was conducted. Drug abuse is said to cost the American public $181 billion each year in health care, legal and lost workplace production costs.1,2

A Brief History of Recent U.S. Drug Laws and Acts

Many presidential cabinets have targeted drugs and the illegal drug trade in America, enacting harsh penalties for those who possess, manufacture, or sell certain illicit substances. For instance, President Nixon is famous for his War on Drugs campaign, launched in 1971, which launched the Drug Enforcement Administration, or DEA, in 1973.3

In 1984, Nancy Reagan, wife of President Reagan, instituted the “Just Say No” anti-drug crusade, targeting school-aged children. This was followed by the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, which outlined mandatory penalties for drug trafficking offenses directly related to the type and quantity of drug involved. The Drug Czar White House position was also created in order to oversee the newly minted Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) under the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988; the goal was to create a drug-free America with stiff penalties for drug-related offenses.4

In 2010, The National Drug Control Strategy was first published under President Obama’s direction and continues to be modified today. The most recent strategy in 2014 allocated 43 percent of the national drug budget to substance abuse prevention and treatment, which is 20 percent more than is allotted for federal drug incarceration and law enforcement.5

In 2017, the Opioid Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act bill was introduced. This bill aims to require producers, manufacturers, and importers of prescription opioid drugs opioids to pay an increased excise tax on goods that are sold. The bill also adds requirements for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to provide state grants to increase healthcare provider awareness of the opioid epidemic and to promote treatment initiatives.6

White House

Addiction as a Physiological Condition

Man having anxiety attackAddiction research has increased greatly in recent years and we now know that it is a physiological condition associated with the chemical changes in the brain’s reward and motivation pathways. Doctors and researchers now understand that addiction behaviors require specialized treatment, not punishment, for successful recovery. Drug laws are constantly being modified in order to reflect this.

More than eight percent of the American adult population aged 12 and older were classified with substance dependence or abuse in 2013, yet fewer than 11 percent received needed treatment at a specialized facility.5 By 2017, almost half of all inmates in federal prisons (46.3 percent)are serving time because of drug-related offenses (percentages based on the month prior to the survey).7

The War on Drugs seems to have proved ineffective, and federal drug laws in the United States are rushing to catch up with current mental health and medical opinions recommending treatment for substance abuse and addiction instead of punishment.8

Drug Scheduling: What Does It Mean?

In 1970, Congress passed the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act, giving law enforcement more leverage over illegal drug possession, distribution, and sales, in addition to regulating drugs with abuse and dependency potential. The drug scheduling classifications we use today came from part of that act.9

Drugs are classified due to their abuse, diversion and dependency potential versus their medicinal value. Drugs that are classified as Schedule I, for instance, are considered to have little to no accepted medicinal use and a high potential for abuse and dependency. Schedule V drugs then have a higher medicinal value and less potential for dependency and abuse. Drugs that have a higher drug schedule classification are more tightly controlled and regulated, with more severe penalties for possession, distribution, and manufacturing them. Examples of popular drugs and their scheduling include:

  • Schedule I: heroin, ecstasy, marijuana, LSD
  • Schedule II: morphine, cocaine, Vicodin, methamphetamine, OxyContin, Adderall, Ritalin, Demerol, Dilaudid, Fentanyl
  • Schedule III: many combination codeine products such as Tylenol with codeine, anabolic steroids, testosterone
  • Schedule IV: Xanax, Valium, Ambien, Tramadol, Ativan
  • Schedule V: Cough medications, Lyrica, Robitussin AC, Motofen10

Drugs may be moved between these schedules as new information and evidence surfaces. For instance, hydrocodone combination products (including Vicodin) were moved in October 2014 from Schedule III to Schedule II based on a recommendation from the Department of Health and Human Services (HSS) that indicated that these drugs posed a significant risk for abuse, diversion, and physical and psychological dependence.11

“The more I experimented with drugs,” writes John M. at HeroesInRecovery.com, “the deeper I went and I only became increasingly numb to life and people. …On a warm September evening, my home was raided by task force agents. We were caught with a major shipment of drugs. We were all facing up to 40 years in prison for the crimes we had committed. I laid on my jail cell floor and cried out, “Oh God, give me a second chance!”After many months of being in jail, we were all released.

“…My addictions started by me making one bad decision followed by another; then in the same way, my freedom from addiction started by me making one good decision after another.”

Marijuana’s Criminal History

Man in drug courtMarijuana (and its active ingredient 9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC) has been one of the most controversial drugs in the United States. By 1931, 21 states had outlawed marijuana and possession and sale of marijuana became a crime nation-wide by 1937.12

State laws generally follow federal policies, although, with marijuana, there have been large discrepancies. Marijuana is often heralded for its medicinal value,with pain-blocking, hunger-inducing, and calming effects, and in 1996, California became the first state to go against federal laws and legalize marijuana for medical use. In 2014, after decades of attempts to decriminalize marijuana, Congress approved the lifting of federal prohibitions on marijuana used for medicinal purposes after 32 states plus the District of Columbia had already done so. Since that time, states have also slowly begun to legalize recreational use of marijuana.13

Deputy Samantha Clementi, Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office Today, I’m excited to bring you our first viewpoint from the law enforcement side of the opioid crisis. Deputy Samantha Clementi serves with the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office in South Florida, where she’s made it her mission to build a bridge between the police force and the individuals dealing with addiction and recovery in her district. But with limited regulatory support and new, counterfeit sober homes popping up without warning, it can be a challenge to stay ahead of the curve. She sat down with me at the Moments of Change conference to share how she works together with the state attorney’s office, code enforcement, trustworthy treatment providers and her community at large to protect her neighborhood and make sure that real recovery is available to everyone.
Deputy Samantha Clementi sits down with Recovery Unscripted to share the viewpoint from the law enforcement side of the opioid crisis. Deputy Samantha Clementi serves with the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office in South Florida, where she’s made it her mission to build a bridge between the police force and the individuals dealing with addiction and recovery in her district. But with limited regulatory support and new, counterfeit sober homes popping up without warning, it can be a challenge to stay ahead of the curve. She shares how she works together with the state attorney’s office, code enforcement, trustworthy treatment providers and her community at large to protect her neighborhood and make sure that real recovery is available to everyone.

Considered the most commonly used illicit drug in America, marijuana is not without risk factors and side effects. It is believed to have addictive qualities, hooking one in 11 users, and 25 to 50 percent of daily marijuana users are thought to become addicted to the drug. Marijuana laws are likely to continue to evolve with public opinion and as more research comes to light.14

New Drugs and Answering Drug Laws

Marijuana’s spotty criminal history may have opened the door for new and potentially dangerous designer drugs that mimic the effects of THC to pop up. Often termed “fake pot,” synthetic cannabinoids hit the American market in the early 2000s and were marketed in head shops, on the Internet, and even in gas stations, sold as incense and labeled “not for human consumption.”

Since these drugs were sold under the pretense that they were not to be ingested, they initially escaped FDA regulation. The popularity of spice, K2, skunk, Yucatan fire, moon rocks, fake weed, and various other renditions of synthetic cannabinoids skyrocketed, particularly among adolescents. A national survey conducted in 2012 reported that synthetic cannabinoids like spice were the second most popular illicit drug abused by 12th graders, second to only marijuana itself.16

Spice and its counterparts have dangerous side effects, as synthetic cannabinoids are often more effective at binding to receptors in the brain, as much as 100 times more so, making the drugs more potent than THC and increasing the risks for a life-threatening overdose. These herbal mixtures are essentially poison with no known medicinal value.16

Other synthetic chemicals, marketed as “bath salts,” are amphetamine-like stimulant synthetic cathinone drugs sold as “jewelry cleaner” or “plant food” and called Vanilla Sky, Ivory Wave, Bloom, Cloud Nine and White Lightning on the street. These drugs are similar to spice products in that they are falsely labeled “not for human consumption” in order to evade FDA regulation. With effects similar to those of other stimulant drugs and Ecstasy, bath salts are often cut with other unknown chemicals or products that may interact in dangerous manners, causing an overdose. They are considered unpredictable and highly addictive.16

Congress and state government officials recognize the threat these new designer drugs pose to public health and continue to pass laws in order to regulate them. Unfortunately, as soon as some versions of synthetic drugs are controlled, others pop up.

Good Samaritan Laws

Drug overdose deaths are often preventable; however, bystanders or those involved may be afraid to call for help due to criminal repercussions. The District of Columbia and 22 states have what are termed “Good Samaritan Laws” in place to protect those who seek help for an overdose from prosecution. Good Samaritan Laws come in two main forms: laws to protect those administering or prescribing naloxone to reverse the effects of an overdose and those providing immunity for calling 911 to seek medical attention for an overdose.17

In order to qualify for the 911 drug immunity law’s protection, you must meet certain criteria or take necessary actions including:

  • Reasonable belief that an overdose is occurring and is a medical emergency
  • Good-faith reporting of the overdose to the proper authorities, including 911 operators, medical personnel or law enforcement officials
  • Identification of oneself and overdose victim
  • Staying until help arrives
  • Cooperating with law enforcement and medical personnel
  • Offense immunity is sought for must arise out of the overdose emergency scenario directly17

The best way to prevent drug arrest or overdose deaths is to seek help before it is too late. Michael’s House offers dedicated, evidence-based treatment in a comfortable, safe setting. It is important to know that the things you share in rehab treatment are private and protected, as long as no children or vulnerable adults have been harmed. Your rehab and recovery treatment is between you and your physician, and licensed drug and alcohol rehab programs are designed to offer an understanding, supportive environment that builds healing and possibility. Find out how we can help you today.

Citations

1Results from the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH): Summary of National Findings.Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). 2014.

2 Drug Abuse Costs the United States Economy Hundreds of Billions of Dollars in Increased Healthcare Costs, Crime and Lost Productivity. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). 27 Apr 2017.

3 DEA History. U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).Accessed 26 Jan 2018.

4 John, A. A Timeline of the Rise and Fall of ‘Tough on Crime’ Drug Sentencing. The Atlantic. 22 Apr 2014.

5 Results from the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH): Summary of National Findings. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). 2014.

6 H.R.993 – Opioid Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act of 2017. Congress.gov. 115th Congress of the United States of America. 2017.

7 Statistics: Offenses. Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP).30 Dec 2017.

8 >Hunt, K. Report: Cheaper, Purer Illegal Substances Suggest Global War on Drugs is Failing. Oct 2013.

9 Controlled Substances Act. United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Accessed 26 Jan 2018.

10 Drug Scheduling. United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Accessed26 Jan 2018.

11 Rescheduling of Hydrocodone Combination Products from Schedule III to Schedule II. United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). “2014.

12 Marijuana Timeline. PBS Frontline. Accessed26 Jan 2018.

13 Halper, E. Congress Quietly Ends Federal Government’s Ban on Medical Marijuana.” L.A. Times.16 Dec 2014.

14 DrugFacts: Marijuana. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Aug 2017.

15 DrugFacts: Spice (‘Synthetic Marijuana”).National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Nov 2015.

16 Synthetic Drugs (a.k.a. Spice, Bath Salts, etc.).White House National Office of Drug Control Policy (ODCP).Accessed26 Jan 2018.

17 Drug Overdose Immunity ‘Good Samaritan’ Laws. National Conference of State Legislatures. Feb 2015.