A recent Senate report has shown that prescription drug abuse is now one of our country’s biggest health problems, and is responsible for most overdose deaths in the US – more than those from heroin and cocaine combined. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA), the number of people seeking treatment for addiction to prescription painkillers has risen 400 percent between 2004 and 2008. This increase in Rx drug abuse has also contributed significantly to the increase in the number of violent robberies of pharmacies, which rose 82 percent between 2006 and 2011. According to an article in the Christian Science Monitor, “The implication is that not only is prescription drug abuse leading to serious health problems across the US, but it is becoming a security issue as well.”
These findings seem to shift attention away from the Latin American cartels, where the US has long focused their drug-enforcement efforts. According to a 2009 survey on US drug use, 70 percent of prescription drug abusers in this country were supplied by a relative or a friend. This suggests that our current challenge may be to focus drug policy efforts on domestic laws and health care practices, rather than on foreign criminal organizations.
According to the Christian Science Monitor article, “shifting drug consumption habits in the US also call into question repeated claims by Latin American countries that their struggle against organized crime is primarily driven by US consumers of cocaine and marijuana.” However, much of the evidence suggests that this violence in these countries is, at least partly, driven by domestic consumption. And while consumption of cocaine and marijuana in the US is on the decline, it is on the rise in Latin America – suggesting that the cartels may be compensating by supplying more of these drugs to consumers within their own countries.