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How do rates of illegal drug use in countries with more progressive drug policies compare to rates of illegal drug use in the United States? What does this suggest about the effect of more progressive drug control policies on drug use?

The United States has much higher levels of illegal drug use than countries with more progressive policies. This suggests that more progressive drug control policies may be more effective in reducing drug use overall.

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Despite having some of the harshest laws concerning drug use, the United States leads the world in the illicit consumption of drugs. In fact, about half of the country's prison population is incarcerated for a drug-related crime. Currently, tens of thousands of Americans die every year from opioid overdoses. Clearly, the country's drug policy has failed to achieve its goals.

There are many countries with much more permissible and progressive drug policies that have significantly lower rates of drug use than the US. Portugal, for instance, takes a very liberal approach by decriminalizing all drug use. Portuguese policy is to view drug addiction as a disease rather than as a criminal offense. Consequently, addicts are more likely to receive addiction treatment than prison sentences. The rate of drug-related deaths in Portugal is about two percent of what it is in the United States.

Likewise, Switzerland, Germany, and Canada have seen opium use decline in recent years after implementing treatment programs for users. Their goals are to reduce the number of users in a preventive approach rather than prosecute users as criminals. Furthermore, the use of opioids as prescriptive painkillers is not as common in these countries as it is in the United States. This has proven to be effective. For instance, in 2016, the rate of opioid-related deaths in Germany was about one-tenth of what they were in the United States.

The Netherlands distinguished between so-called hard drugs and soft drugs and chooses to turn a blind eye to the latter. Like many of their European neighbors, the Dutch focus on addiction prevention rather than criminal prosecution. They freely offer counseling services and rehab programs. As a result, the rates of hard drug use in the Netherlands are in the low single digits.

It is not entirely clear if more liberal and progressive drug policies are the cause of lower drug use or merely correlate with it. However, it does suggest that a more proactive and less criminally focused drug policy might result in lower levels of use in the United States.

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