Across America, the number of crimes involving guns is on the rise. This has brought the topic of gun violence to the forefront in the media and in thoughtful policy discussions among elected officials. People are dying in both the cities and the suburbs as a result of this seemingly out-of-control violent behavior. But while opinions are many on what can and should be done to stem the rising rate of violent gun incidents, one fact is undisputed: Most of this violence stems from drug related activity. Newark, in particular, has recently seen a very unsettling surge in drug-related shootings.
Just as the toll of homicides seemed to be declining to levels not seen since 2008, the recent spike in violent criminal activity has squashed any hope of seeing a decrease in the number of murders on the streets of Newark this year. Even though none of the incidents during this recent murder spree are related, there is a common thread that runs through and hangs like a pall over each scene: all of the young adult victims were involved in or were innocent bystanders that got in the way of a drug dispute.
This particular string of crimes occurred in Newark, but drug related violence is a rising problem nationwide. Victims vary in age, occupation and gender, further driving home the sad but inescapable fact that the disease of addiction knows no boundaries, respects no economic class, and doesn’t discriminate based on age, race or gender. As illicit drugs, particularly heroin, become cheaper, they become more accessible, luring individuals into the dangerous entanglement of addiction. Some addicts are reaching levels of desperation that drives them to violence as a means of feeding their dependency on drugs.
While there are no easy solutions or quick fixes for the societal problem of drug violence, making drug treatment and rehabilitation more accessible is a critical element to begin to break the addiction and violence cycle. Putting non-violent drug users into supervised, long-term treatment programs benefits both the addict and society, and eases the burden on the overtaxed criminal justice system. Long-term treatment and recovery are proven to help addicts to achieve and maintain sobriety, allowing them to move forward, and to contribute to society in a positive way. Studies have shown conclusively that every dollar invested into treatment programs saves seven dollars in law enforcement and criminal justice costs. More than that, studies show that these programs and expenditures actually make us safer as a society.
The road to achieving a meaningful and sustainable decline in drug addiction and the resulting drug violence is long and arduous. But like all successful journeys, it starts with the first step. We need to begin by recognizing and addressing the broader issues surrounding drug addiction, and take positive steps to break the chain of addiction and violence. Only then will we begin to make our communities safer from drug-related violence.
CEO, Integrity House