Magazine article The Futurist

Drugs and Crime in the Twenty-First Century: New Approaches to Old Problems

Magazine article The Futurist

Drugs and Crime in the Twenty-First Century: New Approaches to Old Problems

Article excerpt

Crime should have been added to "death and taxes" as inevitable facts of life. But in the twenty-first century, technology and new crime-management methods will be able to significantly reduce street crime - the theft and violence that frightens citizens most

There is no shortage of scientific and technological advances that will help police in their efforts to curtail drugs, crime, and violence in the twenty-first century. In fact, breakthroughs in information technologies, medicine, new materials, and a number of other areas will have important implications for crime prevention and criminal justice.

According to the National Crime Victimization Surveys conducted by the Department of justice, the crime rate decreased significantly in the United States during the 1980s. The aggregate number of households touched by crime was down from one in three in 1975 to one in four by 1990. But the rate of decline leveled off in the early 1990s, and a few types of violent offenses increased somewhat. Today, U.S. prisons are filled to overflowing, and the fear of crime - particularly violent crime - continues to grow.

Law-enforcement efforts, no matter how skilled or effective, will never completely eradicate the problems of drugs and street crime. But these problems will be greatly alleviated by applying the technologies of the Information Age to the age-old problem of crime and justice. Crime itself can never be eliminated, but the number of crimes committed - and even the opportunities to commit crimes-can be dramatically reduced.

Fighting Drugs with Drugs

Much of the public's concern about crime - as well as an enlarged correctional population-can be directly attributed to the "war on drugs," as drug-related arrests have escalated rapidly during the pas decade. Twenty to forty-five percent of the new prison inmates are drug abusers, and a significant proportion of violent offenders are either drug suppliers fighting over territorial rights or drug abusers desperately seeking the means to feed their addiction.

Advances in our understanding of drugs and the development of new therapeutic medications - along with the redefinition of law-enforcement problems and a redirection of social policy - will assist in the war on drugs and crime in several significant ways. For example, while the drug problem in the United States is most often associated with "hard" drugs such as cocaine or heroin, most of the problem actually comes from alcohol use. A drug now being tested promises to alleviate the massive problems caused by alcohol. RO15-5413, first tested by a Swiss pharmaceutical firm, sobered up heavily intoxicated rats in two minutes. Later tests found that, if the drug was taken before drinking, the rats did not get drunk; if it was taken over a period of time, the rats lost interest in alcohol. Early reports indicate that the same results will be found for humans, leading to a "sober-up" pill.

Police have expressed concern that a driver might kill someone while under the influence of alcohol and then take a sober-up pill in an attempt to hide the "evidence," but since the drug works by blocking the impact of the alcohol on the brain rather than actually lowering the body's blood-alcohol content, the alcohol in the bloodstream should still be detectable with blood tests. Since half of all street crime and traffic fatalities are associated with alcohol, this should be a great boon to curbing the nation's biggest drug problem.

Similar impact-blocking compounds are already being tested and fect on amphetamine and barbiturate users and even crack-cocaine addicts.

Understanding and Controlling

Criminal Behavior

Another aid to curtailing dangerous drug use in the future will be the increased knowledge and new therapeutic medications that should result from the current Human Genome Project. Launched to discover the genetic causes and thus treatments for brain-related diseases such as Parkinson's disease and epilepsy, the project is expected to result in a map of the chemical and electrical circuitry of the brain, as well as decoding the body's genetic structure. …

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