Complexities of Drug Abuse and the War on Drugs: The Growing Epidemic
Throughout the centuries, our history has shown us the war on drugs, the battles of addictions, and how both the war and the addictions have gotten bigger throughout the years. The drugs are so popular that people take them for pleasure and for pain. And the war on drugs is a cruel joke in America. Drugs can be fun, but they also can be deadly.
Stimulants are a class of psychoactive drugs that increase activity in the brain. These drugs can temporarily elevate alertness, mood, and awareness. Stimulants have chemical structures that are like the key brain neurotransmitters called monoamines, which include norepinephrine and dopamine. The drug will increase the levels of these chemicals in the brain and body, which, in turn, increases blood pressure and heart rate, constricts blood vessels, increases blood glucose, and opens the pathways of the respiratory system.
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Drugs that are classed as stimulants include caffeine, nicotine, cocaine, and amphetamines. In history, amphetamines were first synthesized in 1887 but weren’t used until the 1930s, when doctors prescribed them to treat nasal congestion. Eventually, they were used to treat other conditions, including obesity, depression, and hyperactivity. It wasn’t long before people discovered that the side effects—among them, excitement and alertness—could be pleasurable. That’s when amphetamines began to be abused. In the 1950s, people were taking cold medicine just to lose weight, or students were taking it just to stay awake to study. By the late 1960s and early 1970s, people were addicted to stimulants and making crystal meth. These historical events have led our governments to have any OTC drugs placed with the pharmacy because of the stimulants that they have in them and people abusing the drug and making crystal meth.
A type of drug that slows down brain activity, which causes the muscles to relax and calms and soothes a person. CNS depressants are used to treat insomnia, anxiety, panic attacks, and seizures. They may also be used to relieve anxiety and tension before surgery. Most CNS depressants act on the brain by increasing the activity of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a chemical that inhibits brain activity. This action causes the drowsy and calming effects that make the medicine effective for anxiety and sleep disorders. People who start taking CNS depressants usually feel sleepy and uncoordinated for the first few days until the body adjusts to these side effects.
There are three different groups of drug classes they include Benzodiazepines, Non-Benzodiazepine, Sedative Hypnotics, and Barbiturates. In history, back in 1951, Congress passed a law requiring a doctor’s approval for the purchase of barbiturates. But even before the clampdown on the over-the-counter sale of barbiturates, pharmaceutical companies were on the hunt for the next generation of tranquilizers. In 1958, Hoffmann-La Roche patented another benzodiazepine, called diazepam, soon to become world-famous as Valium. Sales of the new drug quickly eclipsed the old barbiturates.
In 1990, the American Psychiatric Association launched a task force to investigate the dangers of rising benzodiazepine prescriptions. Today, the number of prescriptions continues to rise, as does the size of the benzodiazepine-injured community. Nearly four decades after Senate hearings on the dangers of benzodiazepines, research into these drugs and physician knowledge remain woefully inadequate. The need for action grows more urgent with every passing day.
Hallucinogens are a diverse group of drugs that alter perception, thoughts, and feelings. They cause hallucinations or sensations and images that seem real, though they are not. Hallucinogens can be found in some plants and mushrooms or can be human-made. People have used hallucinogens for centuries, mostly for religious rituals. Classic hallucinogens are thought to interact mostly with serotonin and the prefrontal cortex of the brain. Alterations of moods, distortions of reality and sensory perceptions, and seeing, hearing, or feeling things that are not there are common side effects of drug-induced psychosis or a “trip.” Some people may feel euphoric and have what they consider to be a spiritual awakening, while others may suffer from panic, paranoia, anxiety, and despair, which are side effects of a “bad trip.” Hallucinogenic drugs can be unpredictable and affect each user differently.
The four most common drugs include LSD, Peyote, Psilocybin, and Dimethoxymethylamphetamine. In history, in the early 1970s, MDMA had hit the streets. It was popular at raves and nightclubs. Today, ecstasy is still a common street drug, but researchers are investigating whether MDMA could be used to treat post-traumatic stress disorder and cancer-related anxiety.
Inhalants are volatile substances that produce chemical vapors that can be inhaled to induce a psychoactive or mind-altering effect. The chemicals abused by inhalant users affect different parts of the brain, producing a variety of sensory and psychological disorders. Many inhalants are thought to dissolve the protective myelin sheath that surrounds neurons – brain cells – resulting in cell death.” The damage to the brain caused by inhalants can create personality changes, memory problems, hallucinations, learning disabilities, tremors, vision problems, and permanent problems with balance and coordination.
Inhalants are composed of four main types: solvents, volatile gases, aerosols, and nitrites. The history of inhalants dates as early as the 1800s; nitrous oxide, ether, and chloroform were the anesthetics used commonly as intoxicants. Ether was used as a recreational drug during the 1920s Prohibition era, when alcohol was made illegal in the U.S. Abuse of inhalants in the United States increased in the 1950s and is now widespread among adolescents. By the 1960s, the practice of solvent sniffing had spread across a wide variety of commercial products, including paint and lacquer thinners, nail polish remover, shoe polish, lighter fluid, spray paint, and others. And now we have a major problem with young teens and young adults using inhalants to get that high today.
Cannabinoids are naturally occurring compounds found in the Cannabis sativa plant. Of over 480 different compounds present in the plant, only around 66 are termed cannabinoids. The most well-known among these compounds is the delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ9-THC), which is the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis. Cannabidiol (CBD) is another important component, which makes up about 40% of the plant resin extract. THC’s chemical structure is similar to the brain chemical anandamide. The similarity in structure allows the body to recognize THC and to alter normal brain communication.
Endogenous cannabinoids such as anandamide (see figure) function as neurotransmitters because they send chemical messages between nerve cells (neurons) throughout the nervous system. They affect brain areas that influence pleasure, memory, thinking, concentration, movement, coordination, and sensory and time perception. Because of this similarity, THC can attach to molecules called cannabinoid receptors on neurons in these brain areas and activate them, disrupting various mental and physical functions and causing the effects described earlier. The neural communication network that uses these cannabinoid neurotransmitters, known as the endocannabinoid system, plays a critical role in the nervous system’s normal functioning, so interfering with it can have profound effects.
Cannabinoid is a drug class from Marijuana, and along with cannabinoid is CBG, CBC, CBD, and THC. These all fall under Marijuana as a drug class. The history began back in the 1600s when the colonists were growing hemp and using it. Then, in 1937, there was a tax put on Marijuana. In the 1970s, Nixon placed a war on drugs, and that is when Marijuana became a Schedule I drug. In 1996, California legalized Marijuana for medical use only, called the Compassionate Act Use. As of 2018, there are 30 states that have legalized Marijuana.
Also known as “opioids,” the term “narcotic” comes from the Greek word for “stupor” and originally referred to a variety of substances that dulled the senses and relieved pain. Though some people still refer to all drugs as “narcotics,” today “narcotic” refers to opium, opium derivatives, and their semi-synthetic substitutes. A more current term for these drugs, with less uncertainty regarding its meaning, is “opioid.” Opioids attach to receptors in the brain. Normally, these opioids are the endogenous variety that is created naturally in the body. Once attached, they send signals to the brain of the ‘opioid effect,’ which blocks pain, slows breathing, and has a general calming and anti-depressing effect.
The four main drug classes include OxyContin, Fentanyl, Morphine, and Codeine. The history of narcotics, also known as opioids, dates back to 3400 B.C. Narcotics from ancient times all had a common source: the red opium poppy. The Opium Exclusion Act of 1909 Barred the importation of opium for the purpose of smoking. The Harrison Narcotics Tax Act of 1914 Required physician and pharmacist registration for the distribution of opiates. The Heroin Act of 1924: Heroin importation, manufacture, and possession was outlawed in the U.S.. Bayer stopped the production of heroin, but in 1916, oxycodone was developed in hopes it would be less addictive.
With the passage of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) in 1970, greater regulation and scheduling of drugs based on abuse potential occurred. Within the CSA, there are five schedules (I-V) that are used to classify drugs based on their potential for abuse, valid medical applications, and public safety. The schedules range from I to V, with Schedule I being the highest for potential abuse and with no current medical use. Heroin and marijuana fall into Schedule 1; oxycodone, hydrocodone, and morphine are in Schedule 2. Due to the growth of pain medications, doctors are still seeing an increase in abused prescription medication due to the opioid epidemic that we have in our country today.
The growing drug crisis sweeping across the U.S. is deadlier than gun violence, car crashes, or Aids, none of which have killed as many Americans in a single year as overdoses did in 2017, with the number at 70,237. We need to keep the war on drugs going and continue to fight and help those in need of drug abuse problems and addiction. Our drug issues in America should have been resolved many years ago, but having the President of the United States with all the power to work on the drug issues and other government agencies, it will always be and will continue to be an ongoing issue.
- Hanson, G.R., Venturelli, P.J., & Fleckenstein, A.E. (2015). Drugs and Society (12th ed.). MA: Jones and Bartlett Learning.
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