MPH Capstone Defense: Izadora Nunes

Title of Capstone: Examining United States Drug Policy: A Systematic Review from 2010-2021 

Capstone Chair: Dr. Colin Smith

INTRODUCTION:  The war on drugs, initially started in 1971, has caused long-lasting effects on the criminal justice system and public health, yet forces in charge have resisted changing the policies despite calls in recent years for reform.

AIM: As the conversation surrounding United States drug policies has changed to be more tolerant among the general population, policymakers have been resistive to change and continued with ineffective policies. This article attempts to review the available literature on these drug policies and analyze why they have been resistive to change, the impacts they cause on the population, the effectiveness of these policies, and the policy alternatives to the current system.

METHODS: A systematic analysis of peer-reviewed articles that describes current drug policies within the United States and other countries or relevance, the impact that these policies have on health and inequalities, drug usage and prevalence rates, and the economic impact of these policies from 2010 to 2021. 

RESULTS:  Of the 20 articles included in the literature review, six were on current drug policies, six on the impact that drug policies have on health and inequities, four were on drug usage and prevalence rates, and another four on the economic impact of current drug policies. An analysis of current drug policies substantiated the claim that the War on Drugs has failed, as supply and usage of drugs did not decrease, despite prohibitionist policies on illicit drugs. The impact on population health and inequities was significant and prevalent within minority groups, where incarceration rates have increased exponentially within the past few decades due in large part to mandatory minimum sentencing and racial bias in law enforcement. Usage and prevalence rates within the United States have also remained markedly high, despite all the policies currently in place to eliminate drug use. The economic impact of the drug market and the War on Drugs provided some of the most condemning arguments; an increase in the price for a drug caused by a disruption in supply led to greater crime associated with its distribution. The literature review findings are palpable - existing drug policies within the United States are ineffective, costly, harsh, and further marginalize minorities and vulnerable populations. 

RECOMMENDATIONS: My findings suggest that an overhaul of the current system is necessary to bring equity and justice to the United States drug problem. A comprehensive public health approach to drug policy, one which is focused on harm reduction, correcting racial bias, and decreasing mass incarceration, should be utilized as an alternative to the current policies.

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Thursday, April 22 at 12:00pm

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