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U.S. must face its deep-rooted disease of drug abuse

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People walk through the Times Square in New York, the United States, Dec. 14, 2021. (Photo by Michael Nagle/Xinhua)
People walk through the Times Square in New York, the United States, Dec. 14, 2021. (Photo by Michael Nagle/Xinhua)

By Zhong Sheng

The United States has the worst drug problem in the world today.
Twelve percent of global drug users come from the country, three times the proportion of the U.S. population to that of the world.

During the past 12 months, 10.1 million Americans have consumed opium at least once, and 48.2 million Americans over the age of 18 consumed cannabis at least once.

These shocking statistics mirror the harsh reality of drug abuse in the U.S., which is getting worse and has become an “American disease” that cannot be fixed easily.

Drug abuse leads to enormous social cost in the U.S.

Drug overdose exacts a high death toll on the U.S. population, greatly eroding the base of labor force and weighing on life expectancy.

According to a 2018 report on the American journal Science, American death toll of drug overdose has increased exponentially over the past 38 years – up 9 percent almost every year and doubling about every eight years. A total of 72,000 deaths, a record high, was registered in 2017.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, from April 2020 to April 2021, more than 100,000 people in the U.S. died from drug overdose.

Drug abuse also leads to problems like family discord, violent crimes, and psychological trauma in children.
Michael Botticelli, former Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, said more and more deadly drugs have entered the market, leading to severer problems of drug and substance abuse. Drug overdose and the disasters it brings to the society are heartbreaking, he added.

Drug abuse in the U.S. is a reflection of deep-rooted social problems, and the result of an interplay of economic interests, lobbying, and social and cultural factors.

In order to maintain their profits, interest groups in the U.S. throw a large amount of money to peddle the narrative that “opioids are harmless.” What they want is to push for drug legalization and prod pharmacies into promoting drug sales and doctors into indiscriminate prescription of drugs.

After analyzing disclosed data from the U.S. Senate, the OpenSecrets website found that the marijuana and cannabis industry, which involved more than 20 businesses, spent as much as $4.28 million on lobbying in 2021 alone. With interest groups lobbying, the House of Representatives actively considered bills that promote the legalization of marijuana and cannabis.

“We don’t need to convince people to believe in cannabis. We need to convince them to buy legally,” said a vice president of a U.S. company in the cannabis industry.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made long-existing social problems even worse in the U.S., and the pressure caused by problems, including gun violence, racism, social injustice and huge wealth gap, is increasingly felt by young people. As young people’s confidence in the U.S. drops dramatically and the pressure they face keeps growing, more and more of them turn to drugs to relieve their stress.

The drug problem is a manifestation of America’s failure in social governance. Driven by economic interests, the U.S. government winks at drug abuse and even pushes for drug legalization.

The cannabis industry in the country surged despite the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Legal cannabis sales in the U.S. hit a record $17.5 billion in 2020, a 46 percent jump from that of 2019, according to BDSA, a platform providing cannabis sales data.

U.S. media reported that California has raised $1 billion in cannabis tax revenue in only two years since the industry kicked into gear.

The U.S. has a fentanyl problem more rampant than other countries, but it has not officially scheduled fentanyl substances permanently yet.

According to Howard Koh, former Assistant Secretary for Health for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, drug and substance abuse in the United States is one of the most devastating public health disasters. The crisis showcases the U.S. government’s failed regulation across multiple systems, and it is imperative to make prompt, unified and comprehensive response.

According to the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, an American think tank, one could hardly see in the National Drug Control Strategy issued by the U.S. government the important roles the government is supposed to play in fighting one of the biggest public health challenges. Instead, it has sat idle as drug and substance abuse worsens.

The U.S. government has always confused right with wrong and shifted the blame in the fight against drugs. It is not only deeply irresponsible for U.S. citizens, but also undermines international counter-narcotics cooperation.

The drug problem of America is a deep-rooted disease that is yet to be cured. The U.S. should face its own problem squarely, take actions to deal with the domestic issue of prevalent drug abuse, and protect the American people’s right to life and health. Even less should it mislead the public and shift its responsibility for ineffective response to drug abuse at home onto others.

(Zhong Sheng is a pen name often used by People’s Daily to express its views on foreign policy and international affairs.)

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