Is the war on drugs a fight against stereotypes?
According to many officials, the stigma of being associated with drugs, for whatever reason, has slowly changed through the years.
"Not only has the stigma changed, so has the mentality of those involved in the drug culture. There used to be shame attached to being arrested for drug use," Clay County Sheriff's Department Chief Deputy Rob Gambill said. "But today, so many of the people arrested think it's nothing to worry about, almost like it's s right of passage. They think it gives them street credibility and lifts them above their peers."
Gambill and Sheriff Mike Heaton, along with various other law enforcement agents -- who will remain unidentified because they are actively involved in drug investigations -- recently agreed to speak with The Brazil Times about residents' concerns that drugs have invaded their community.
One potential contributing factor for this new attitude is highly controversial: The pervasive way the entertainment industry depicts criminals and drug use as a "cool escape" to the problems of life and as socially-normal behavior in adult-oriented movies, television programs, music and video games.
"To some extent, although no one really knows how much, these things are a definite influence on young people," Heaton said. "Whatever the reasons, attitudes have definitely changed. Suspects are not embarrassed by their drug activity. Many are proud of it."
However, law enforcement officers experience the reality of the situation.
When arrested, most suspects involved in drug activity tell officers they want out of the drug culture.
"They often cry and admit that they want to stop using and participating in criminal activities connected with drugs, but they just don't know how," an undercover officer said. "The drugs have taken hold of their lives and they can't get out. You can tell that they are being honest. They're lost. They really don't know how to get out."
On the flip side, the "dramatic license" of the entertainment industry regarding fictional crime dramas and forensic-based television programs has changed the real-world expectations of the public.
"Justice takes longer than 30 minutes," an undercover officer said. "There's a lot of manpower necessary to make a strong case for the prosecution and conviction of a suspect in any criminal investigation. The real world isn't like an episode of 'CSI.'"
Another factor law enforcement officers believe is creating problems is a "generational theory" that rationalizes drug use, which goes something like "what one generation despises, the second will learn to tolerate and the third generation, and so on, will ultimately accept."
Another potential trend is how easily accessible prescription drugs are in society.
"We live in a society where if something is wrong, just take a pill for it," an undercover officer said. "The medication is all over the media and inside easily accessible medicine cabinets that are literally everywhere."
Since the war on drugs began to focus on the devastation of street drugs, officials and parents have made it a point to make children understand the consequences of using these substances.
A recent study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) showed a 23.2 percent decline in teen use of illicit drugs like marijuana, crack and cocaine over the past five years. However, the recreational use of prescription medications such as the painkiller Vicodin is steadily increasing.
According to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), each day, approximately 2,500 teens in the United States try a prescription painkiller to get high for the first time.
The knowledge that prescription drugs are dangerous is often overshadowed by the perception that something obtained so easily is relatively harmless.
Even many adults tend to perceive prescription drugs are safer to abuse than street drugs, with only about 30 percent of parents making it an effort to talk to their children about the risks of these drugs.
Statistics regarding drug abuse are difficult to track outside of law enforcement sources, which only track arrest information. There are individuals struggling with addiction, who have yet to be caught up in some form of criminal activity but might seek drug-related medical attention, which is protected by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996.
However, there are public health surveillance systems.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) collects and monitors data on patients of all ages who visit emergency room for drug-related visits across the nation.
The information collected ranges from infant to senior citizen patients, who have mistakenly been given or taken too much medication to those seeking treatment related to negative side effects from the medication, or those seeking treatment for drug abuse or "reconsidered" suicide attempts involving drugs.
Drugs included in the data collected, range from illegal drugs like heroin, cocaine, marijuana and Ecstasy, to prescription drugs such as Vicodin and OxyContin and over the counter (OTC) medications such as cough and cold remedies, inhalants and alcohol.
According to a DAWN study in 2005, an estimated 1,449,154 emergency room visits in the United States involved drug misuse or abuse, with 598,542 of the visits made because of non-medical use of prescription, OTC medications or dietary supplements.
A third of these drug misuse/abuse visits were related to drugs used in combination with alcohol.
"People really don't know what they're dealing with when they mess with prescription drugs. Thinking it can't be bad if a family member takes it, is an incorrect assumption," Heaton said. "There's a reason these types of drugs are prescribed by a doctor. If not taken correctly, the end result can be lethal. Someone, somewhere is combining alcohol, illegal and or prescription drugs to create a new high. It's happening right here in our community, right now."
Energy drink crisis
The Journal of American College Health recently published a report about the link between health problems for teenagers who consume large amounts of energy drinks and the potential for risky and aggressive behavior, including unprotected sex, substance abuse and violence.
Classified as "dietary supplements," a review or approval by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is not required before these products hit store shelves. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University researchers have determined many of the most popular energy drinks contain more than five times the caffeine than is found in an average soda. A newer energy drink on the market, Wired X505, contains 505 milligrams of caffeine per 24-ounce serving, compared to 12-ounce servings of Coke Classic, at 34.0 milligrams, and Pepsi, at 37.5 milligrams.
While research data doesn't mean the drinks cause bad behavior, it does suggest regular consumption of "high-caffeine" energy drinks may be a potential red flag for parents concerned their children are taking risks with their health and safety.
Many caffeine researchers find nothing wrong with ingesting a single serving of an energy drink, but others are concerned with the side affects connected with people becoming dependent on the hundreds of various beverage brands on the market.
Depending upon an individual's body weight and tolerance, ingesting 300 milligrams or more of caffeine can lead to symptoms that are similar to overdoses of other stimulants.
Signs of caffeine intoxication can include restlessness, insomnia, excitement, irritability, and increased urination.
Significantly larger overdoses can cause mania, depression, delusions and disorientation.
In severe cases, medical officials report caffeine overdose can be deadly.
Local law enforcement officials confirm they are finding more and more suspects in possession of empty energy drink cans.
"It's happening here, to what extreme we're not sure," Clay County Sheriff's Department Chief Deputy and former drug enforcement officer Rob Gambill told The Brazil Times. "After a teen party or while cleaning their child's room, parents might not think anything about finding numerous cans lying about. But, if mixed with alcohol or drugs, it can be a bad combination."