Drugs and Narcotics

AuthorJeffrey Lehman, Shirelle Phelps

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Drugs are articles that are intended for use in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease in humans or animals, and any articles other than food, water, or oxygen that are intended to affect the mental or body function of humans or animals. Narcotics are any drugs that dull the senses and commonly become addictive after prolonged use.

In the scientific community, drugs are defined as substances that can affect a human's or animal's biological and neurological states. They may be organic, such as the chemical tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which occurs naturally in marijuana; or synthetic, such as amphetamines or sedatives, which are manufactured in laboratories. Drugs can be swallowed, inhaled through the nostrils, injected with a needle, applied to the skin, taken as a suppository, or smoked. Scientists categorize drugs according to their effects. Among their categories are analgesics, which kill pain, and psychoactive drugs, which alter the mind or behavior. Some psychoactive substances produce psychological highs or lows according to whether they are stimulants or depressants, respectively. Others, called hallucinogens, produce psychedelic states of consciousness; lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) and mescaline are examples of such drugs. Marijuana is placed in its own category.

U.S. law categorizes these substances differently. Commonly, federal and state statutes distinguish drugs from narcotics. Drugs are substances designed for use in and on the body for the diagnosis, cure, treatment, or prevention of disease. These substances are regulated by the FOOD AND DRUG ADMINISTRATION (FDA). Drugs have been defined to include such things as herb tonics, cold salves, laxatives, weight-reduction aids, vitamins, and even blood. Narcotics are defined by statute as substances that either stimulate or dull an individual's senses, and that ordinarily become habit-forming (i.e., addictive) when used over time. The regulation of narcotics falls into two areas. Legal narcotics are regulated by the FDA and are generally available only with a physician's prescription. The production, possession, and sale of illegal narcotics?commonly called controlled substances?are banned by statute.

The U.S. government has expended billions of dollars in a fight to reduce drug use in the United States, citing startling numbers about the number of individuals who use drugs. According to a survey in 2000 by the JUSTICE DEPARTMENT, more than half of the adults in the United States between the ages of 18 and 34 have used illicit drugs during their lifetime. Moreover, 28 percent of children between the ages of 12 and

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17 have used illicit drugs. Although much of the attention has focused upon use of such drugs as marijuana and cocaine, new "club" or "designer" drugs have become popular among some younger individuals. About six million children and young adults over the age of 12 have reported using the designer drug methylene-nmethylamphetamine (MDMA), also known as "ecstasy," which has sparked a national debate about improved drug education in grade schools and high schools in the United States.

Drug Laws

Authority to regulate drug use rests foremost with the federal government, derived from its power to regulate interstate commerce. States are free to legislate so long as their laws remain consistent with federal law. Most states have adopted federal models for their own drug legislation.

Current law has two main objectives. First, it regulates the manufacture, sale, and use of legal drugs such as aspirin, sleeping pills, and antidepressants. Second, it prohibits and punishes the manufacture, possession, and sale of illegal drugs from marijuana to heroin, as well as some dangerous legal drugs.

The distinction between legal and illegal drugs is a twentieth-century phenomenon. During the nineteenth century, there was very little governmental control over drugs. The federal government regulated the smallpox vaccine in 1813 (2 Stat. 806) and established some controls through the Imported Drugs Act of 1848 (9 Stat. 237, repealed by Tariff Act of 1922 [42 Stat. 858, 989]). But addictive substances such as opium and cocaine were legal; in fact, the latter remained a minor ingredient in Coca-Cola soft drinks until 1909. Heroin, discovered in 1888, was prescribed for treating other addictions. California began restricting opium in 1875, but widespread criminalization of the substance would not come for decades.

States began a widespread movement toward control of legal and illegal drugs at the turn of the twentieth century. The federal government joined this process with the PURE FOOD AND DRUG ACT OF 1906 (34 Stat. 768, 1906, Ch. 3915, §§ 1?13, repealed by Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act of 1938), which primarily sought to protect consumers from "misbranded or poisonous" drugs, medicines, and alcohol. It established federal jurisdiction over the domestic manufacture and sale of drugs and also regulated drug imports.

Nevertheless, when Congress passed the Harrison Act of 1914 (Pub. L. No. 223, 38 Stat. 785), which imposed a tax on opium and cocaine, it stopped short of declaring either drug illegal. Most efforts to restrict drug use focused on alcohol. The temperance movement's PROHIBITION crusade culminated in the passage of the EIGHTEENTH AMENDMENT and the VOLSTEAD ACT of 1920 (41 Stat. 305), which made alcohol illegal. Alcohol remained illegal until the repeal of Prohibition in 1933.

Despite numerous amendments, flaws in the Pure Food and Drug Act spurred Congress to replace the statute. In 1938, federal lawmakers enacted the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act (FFDC) (21 U.S.C.A. §§ 301 et seq.), which established the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as the federal agency charged to enforce the law. The FFDC exerted broad control over the domestic commercial-drug market. Over the next two decades, states and the federal government continued to criminalize nonmedicinal and recreational drugs, and by midcentury, the division between legal and illegal drugs was firmly in place. In 1970, Congress passed the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act (21 U.S.C.A. §§ 801 et seq.), which continues to be the primary source of federal law on controlled substances.

Over-the-counter and prescription drugs are tightly regulated under the FFDC. This act and the Kefauver-Harris Drug Amendments of 1962 (Pub. L. No. 87-781, 76 Stat. 781) give the FDA a broad mandate. The agency protects consumers from the potential hazards of dangerous drugs, misleading labels, and FRAUD. The FDA sets standards of safety and quality, and its enforcement duties include the research, inspection, and licensing of drugs for manufacture and sale. Because the law requires that drugs not be adulterated, the FDA ascertains that they conform to legal standards of strength, quality, and purity. It also classifies the drugs that are to be dispensed only by a physician's prescription. Finally, new drugs can be placed on the market only after being approved by the FDA. Traditionally a slow process, FDA approval was speeded up significantly for some drugs in the 1980s and 1990s, largely in response to the AIDS epidemic.

To control the use of dangerous drugs, federal law and most state statutes use a classification system outlined by the Uniform Controlled Substances Act, based on the federal Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control

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Act. This system includes both illegal and dangerous legal drugs. It uses five groups, called schedules, to organize drugs according to their potential for medical use, harm, or abuse, and it imposes a series of controls and penalties for each schedule.

Heroin, hallucinogens, and marijuana are placed on schedule I, as they are thought to have a high potential for harm and no medical use. Other types of opiates and cocaine are on schedule II. Most depressants and stimulants are on schedule III. Some mild tranquilizers are on schedule IV. Schedule V is for drugs...

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