Local war on drugs needs vigilance

Published 11:31am Tuesday, May 22, 2012

By CHRIS GEORGE / Guest Columnist

I’m often asked how the war on drugs is actually going. I will say with confidence that the easiest way to abstain from drug use is to say “no,” but I also understand our children are inquisitive — sometimes to their detriment.

The war on drugs is a battle that law enforcement, fire and rescue personnel and the coroner share with everyone. According to White House statistics, drug abuse was responsible for the death of 38,371 Americans in 2007 and in 2009; 10.5 million reported they had driven under the influence of illicit drugs.

To localize these numbers to Shelby County, we’ve had nearly 300 deaths related to drug overdose in the last nine years. Those were 300 sons, daughters, moms and dads.

However, we have won battles as well. Since the inception of our Drug Enforcement Task Force in 2004, we have obtained warrants on more than 4,000 defendants for drug-related offenses. Of these numbers, more than 200 were for trafficking in drugs, nearly 700 for the distribution of drugs, and more than 1,500 for possession of illegal narcotics. The ultimate victory is hearing a drug dealer tell an informant that he isn’t coming to Shelby County to sell because he doesn’t want to get caught. However, this message is becoming more difficult to send out due to financial restraints and apathy amongst those it doesn’t directly affect.

The illegal drug trade increases the level of violence in a community. In 2009, The Department of Justice reported that there were 900,000 criminally active gang members representing 20,000 gangs nationwide. We have identified 41 of those gangs within Shelby County.

We are also seeing an increase in the number of violent crimes, burglary and theft incidents.

Researchers tell us that 90 percent of drug addicts tried drugs before they were 18 years old, and our own research tells us that kids are experimenting with drugs before high school. Talking to your 16-year-old about drug abuse is too late. It is likely your children will hear from a drug user before they are 12 years old. We must educate our children on the effects of this lifestyle sooner rather than later.

Capt. Chris George is a commander with the Criminal Investigations Division of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. He can be reached at cgeorge@shelbyso.com.

  • Galleon115

    It is incredible that after over 40 years of the War on Drugs that some people still think that doing the same thing over and over again will produce different results. When we looked at alcohol prohibition, we realized that it did not work. We then re-legalized alcohol. Now, there are no beer and wine cartels killing each other and innocent bystanders. Plus we try to treat addicts with rehab and AA rather than jail. And here is a newsflash…drug dealers do not ID kids…it is easier to get pot than beer because of this. I also thought the gratuitous comment toward the end in an attempt to link drug use to a rise in theft, etc. Could the rise also be due to a bad economy? If you google “crime clearance rates in Alabama” you will see the study that shows that only about 20% of violent and property crimes are actually cleared…meaning that they are actually solved. This is because law enforcement believes that if you arrest simple users and some of the dealers, all of these other things will take care of themselves, which is absurd. Accordingly, more police time and effort are used to try to stop drug use rather than protecting citizens’ rights. The two different crime categories are not nearly as closely related as they would have you believe.

  • Buzzby

    In most cases, the negative outcomes discussed in this article are not the result of illicit drugs. They are the result of drug prohibition.

    Overdose deaths, when not intentional, are usually the result of users getting drugs of higher potency than they expected. In the drug black market, one never knows what one is getting. Legalized, this problem would disappear.

    Gangs and gang violence are directly attributable to the fact that we as a nation have put a multibillion dollar business in the hands of criminals. We don’t see people shooting each other over a truckload of booze – but we did during alcohol prohibition.

    For thirty years, high school students surveyed have said that it is easier for them to get marijuana than beer or cigarettes. Why? Purveyors of alcohol and tobacco follow the law and check IDs before making a sale. Drug dealers are glad to know your children, as long as they’ve got the cash.

    If you tried something for forty years and found that it doesn’t work, wouldn’t you try something else? Trying to deal with drug problems by turning the business over to criminals and then locking them and their customers in jails has only resulted in this country having more people in jail than any other. As long as the drug business is insanely profitable, there will always be another entrepreneur ready to take the place of the one who gets caught.

    Why do we follow the same routine over and over again despite the fact that it doesn’t do the job? It keeps the drug companies and the alcohol companies happy. It keeps cops, prosecutors, prison guards, and prison owners happy. Politicians get to bluster about being “tough on crime”.

    What we need to curb the ills of illicit drugs is a legal, controlled, and regulated market for adults. That approach has worked fairly well for alcohol and tobacco. Are we smart enough to try an approach that works for other drugs?

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