Getting into trouble with drugs can have serious consequences. Drug abuse can affect the way your brain works. It can also hurt your family and friends.
Legal medicines like prescription and over-the-counter pain relievers, such as oxycodone and acetaminophen; ADHD drugs, including Concerta, Daytrana, Methylin and Ritalin; and stimulants, such as cocaine and methamphetamines can be used dangerously.
Vaccines play a key role in maintaining and improving public health on a global scale by protecting against numerous infectious diseases. Researchers are working on vaccines that can prevent drug abuse.
Drug abuse creates a reinforcing loop of behaviors triggered by sensory cues, such as the type of store or car a dealer drives or the smell of a drug user’s home. These cues trigger cravings for the drug, which can be hard to resist even after a person has stopped using.
Scientists from the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California have been working on a drug-use vaccine that uses antibodies to bind drug molecules so they cannot pass through the blood-brain barrier and produce psychoactive effects. The vaccine consists of a carrier protein decorated with haptens—small molecules that resemble the drug’s structure—and adjuvants, which stimulate the immune system. The antibody complexes are too large to cross the blood-brain barrier, so the drug can’t enter the brain and elicit its psychoactive effects.
People often use drugs to cope with feelings such as anxiety, depression, anger or loneliness. Learning healthy ways to deal with these emotions, such as talking to a trusted friend or participating in activities that stimulate the brain can help prevent drug abuse.
Education can also play a role in preventing drug abuse. Research-based programs such as Project SUCCESS (Schools Using Coordinated Community Efforts to Reduce Substance Abuse) can be implemented in schools and have been shown to reduce drug-related behavior among youth.
Prevention is an important tool to fight the world drug problem. It encourages treating people who use drugs with respect and empathy; providing evidence-based, voluntary services; offering alternatives to punishment; prioritizing prevention; and combating stigma and discrimination. Taking this approach, which is grounded in international human rights law, has the potential to save lives. It’s an essential element of the UNODC’s comprehensive and people-centered response to the global drug crisis.
Treatment addresses the underlying issues that drive drug abuse. It may include counseling that teaches healthier ways to cope with stress or difficult emotions. It might involve group therapy that provides support from peers who are also trying to change their habits. And it might involve medications to reduce cravings and ease withdrawal symptoms, like aches, shakes, vomiting, and diarrhea. Medications are available to treat opioid (heroin and oxycontin), alcohol, nicotine/tobacco, and stimulant addiction. Scientists are working on new medications to treat cocaine and methamphetamine addiction as well.
Medications are most effective when used in combination with other treatments. Counseling might include family therapy, such as Multidimensional Family Therapy, which is designed for adolescent drug abusers and their families to help uncover family influences on the problem. Or it might include motivational enhancement therapy, or MET, which is a brief, person-centered approach to address ambivalence and encourage drug abusers to change their behavior. It might also include cognitive-behavioral therapy, which teaches healthy coping skills and supports other treatments.
The massive enforcement of laws criminalizing personal drug use in the United States causes enormous harm. It fills prisons and consumes police resources that could be used to tackle violent crimes, ruins the lives of those arrested, often causing them to cycle through jail and probation and pay huge fines, and undermines public health. It also violates international human rights law.
Efforts to reduce drug abuse by arresting users, pushers and people high up in drug trafficking networks have failed. Such efforts can only be effective if they are accompanied by preventive social programmes and treatment.
DEA and the Attorney General’s OCDETF program coordinate multi-agency, prosecutor-led law enforcement operations driven by intelligence to target the supply, transportation, leadership, and financial networks of drug trafficking and money laundering organizations, and dismantle them. They have resulted in tens of thousands of arrests and the seizure of billions in cash, real property, and vehicles. They are also deepening law enforcement cooperation with dozens of nations on joint anti-drug operations such as the Safe Mekong, China-Australia “Flame,” and other operations.