Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Drug Dilemma

The USA pays billions to Colombia each year and millions to Afghanistan's poppy addition to the huge military costs incurred in both countries. All stated as efforts to control...drugs. Is it working? Don't think so. Supply and demand is same as ever and the bloody gang and turf wars get worse each year especially in Mexico which is the main conduit for illicit drugs getting in the North American market. The Mexican government is overrun by the costs both monetarily and in lives trying to control this out of control dilemma. It has become a battle of States it seems...some governments quietly producing while others spend money they don't have trying to eradicate. Where will this all end and what is the answer?

I would argue that governments are losing the war on drugs...primarily because they have not addressed the core of the battle...the users. One also has to suspect the politicizers of this issue. For decades now various administrations have run on "get tough on drugs" agendas. They have passed more laws, built more jails which continue to be filled with sellers and buyers of illegal drugs alike. Just the prison costs alone at over $30,000 annually per prisoner are staggering to the percentage of GNP. Yet, this problem is not going away any time soon while the national deficit continues to reach unfathomable new heights.

Lets look at the "users" for a minute. Aren't they the REAL reason we have this problem? The number of drug users and abusers in our society is alarming, and I'm not talking just "illegal" drugs. Alcohol and tobacco continue to kill tens of thousands every year yet we don't see government making them illegal. Sure, they are making them more expensive and in some cases more difficult to get or use...but I suspect most of that is to just offset their costs on the other side of this battle. The game goes on as users/buyers actually drive the market just like in any other "supply and demand" situation. Users/abusers of marijuana, cocaine, opium, etc are put in jail. User/abusers of alcohol, barbiturates and other pharmaceuticals are put in halfway houses or simply roam the city streets in various levels of delirium and poverty. The jails far outnumber the clinics or hospitals for treatment of addictions...and only the rich can afford those treatments in most cases.

Why do people use drugs? Is there a difference fundamentally between the use of legal versus illegal ones? I have lost a few friends over the years because of their drug use or addictions. While I have tried not to be judgmental nor count myself a "saint" in this department, I have seen first hand the devastation of the drug culture on a few people that were close to me. I have also experienced the "wall" between "partiers" and non. Drug users have their own code and quiet club. I guess they understand each other at depths non users can't. This has always intrigued me and I have wanted to understand better the cause and effect of that reality. Yet, part of me says I probably don't REALLY want to understand it fully. I have seen enough of it to know I admire those friends and family who have recovered from their addictions or abuse. Whether it is heroin or alcohol or food...I think addiction and self control is a very tough thing to change in your life. I respect the fact that in most cases I know of personally they quit without clinics, addiction centers or otherwise. In most successful recoveries I have has been a hardcore, fundamental decision on that person's part...usually after they have "hit bottom" and paid a high personal, painful cost. It has been my observation that until people hit bottom either financially or relationally tied to their addictions...they won't change or recover. All the treatment or counseling in the world will be a waste of time.

I do find it ironic in our culture how we castigate "illegal drug users" while many of these same judges of humanity drink or eat into oblivion. Some of these same people run to the pharmacy for every little pain, sniffle or depression...and they don't equate anti depressants as another form of the same thing illegal drug users are doing. Its called "self medicating", and until we get under the skin of the pain and emptiness in the human condition that causes many of us to pursue "self medication"...we will never know how to adequately fight this battle with drugs and addiction.

As will surprise very few of you who know me, I take quite a Libertarian view on the drug issue. Every individual is responsible for their own behavior when it comes to consuming...including substances legal or illegal. I do not think it is the "State's" role or obligation to legislate and enforce these personal issues. If someone wants to drink or inject themselves into levels of unconsciousness, that is their decision. I support "Drug Control" in the form of controlled distribution. Just like alcohol and cigarettes, taxes could be collected on these substances. If the "State" wants to do something constructive for society, they could be educating children about the dangers of drug and alcohol use and help provide society with mental and medical care centers to treat addicts who want help. Yet, the fundamental responsibility for these things start at the parent/child level and extend to local community standards and discretion. I think we have wasted enough time, lives and money on legislating morality that is not working. People will be moral or immoral regardless of what the government says. If anything, most governments would be far ahead of the game to control distribution and gain tax revenues from these substances. Instead of a huge economic drain of trying to control the uncontrollable, our system would have NET gains instead. Then, out of those gains, if the government truly wanted to HELP people, they would have money for treatment centers and educational campaigns. Take away the demand in society, you immediately obliterate the suppliers.

Bottom line is...morality starts in the home, not in institutions like governments or churches. I have the right to forbid such activities in my home, but I don't have the right to tell you what to do in yours. We all need to do our humane part to encourage our friends and family towards positive self control. If we see someone destroying their lives with one substance, action or another...we need to TALK to them about it if we care. If we know someone is an out of control alcoholic, we can't drink with or in front of them. If we know someone is eating themselves to death, we don't take them to McDonalds. If everyone just worked on helping those addicts in their own circle, institutional methods would not be needed. I would even favor "safe zones" where people can go get high together if that's what they want to do. I personally believe that by decriminalizing drugs and addiction we would do more to take the sub cultural attraction out of the lifestyle and use would diminish instead of expand. Just like children, you can't take something away from them unless you replace it with something better or more nourishing.

Our world's wars have at their underpinnings the supply and demand for substances of all kinds. There are also huge industries based on governmental programs for controlling substances. The "war on drugs" at government levels is more about controlling dollars and politics than controlling drugs. I think it is immoral for a government to abscond with someone's possessions because they use or sell drugs. This has turned into a huge profit center...and I'm not sure this money gets allocated to replace the billions the USA sends in Colombia and Afghanistan. America's government is using the "drug war" to cover other political and selfish objectives.

I think it has also been proven that incarceration has done nothing to change the behavior of drug users and in many cases turns them into MORE hardened criminals. Want to get your doctorate in criminal activities...just go to prison for a few years. After going to prison, being a criminal will be the only job many of these people will get in America.

If you want to see the dismal results of all the billions in cash and lives spent on "controlling drugs", take a look at the "United Nations 2009 World Drug Report" at this link. Then tell me if you think the government's role in this issue is working or worth the price paid. I think its time to legalize and control these substances in a much more positive way.

(PS...I am not a user of any illegal substances, nor am I encouraging anyone to do so.)


Hank Robinson said...

I recently read that 7 million people in this country are in jail or on Parole. This was 2006 with 2 million in jail and large percentage were drug related. This Country has the largest prison population in the World. Even more than China that dwarfs us in population.

One of the reasons cited is other Countries work to rehab drug users. We on the other hand only hand out drugs to control those that will accept drugs for the most insane of inmates.

Many drug users will then get out and within two months are back in b/c they go back to drug use.

I'm not sure how much we currently pay for each inmate on a yearly basis. However, it would be interesting to see a study on potential cost saving to actually work to rehab inmates from drug use. We may make mistakes along the way but it may be worthwhile.

Drugs are extremely powerful. It's easy to look away and hate and lock them up. But this is a narrow and unenlightened view of the problem.

There are many that will tell you that the war on drugs only creates more opportunity for others to gain power by supplying these drugs. Again I don't believe that making all drugs legal is actually the right solution. Rather to help people from getting on drugs or started on drugs.

As people mature they realize that true joy is not from eliminating feelings and an altered state but fulling embracing everything to not be clouded by drugs or to escape. Some never realize this.

This whole thing reminds me of the oil situation. We are an innovative people. We should have spent money and promoted people and students to look and research alternative fuels. Even now as we look at it in a short time great ideas of come up.

In the same way we as a people should face the situation on drugs. It is not our American way to really tell people what they can or cannot do as long as it does not harm others. Yet open people up to the idea of the destruction of drugs and to help people with their problems.

One thing that is hard to quantify is the way people would be contributing to society rather than taking from society to contribute to their drug habit which produces nothing but more crime.

So in summary I do think we should take a hard look at this and agree that we should look at the root of the situation and attempt to help people and in doing so also look and evaluate what works and what does not while still giving people the free will to change.

Timothy said...

Hey Ed,

I agree with you. I believe they should legalise all forms of drugs, and then pump all of that money they were using on enforcement to rehabilitation and education.

The war of drugs will never work. If you can't control the supply of drugs (which you can't, they will never be able to make port authorities perfect and uncorruptible), it's already lost. The police departments make it worse by spending most of their time knocking the heads of corner boys, touts, and hoppers instead of working to bring down the high-level drug traffickers. Often you hear about "if these drugs are legal, then anyone would be able to be tempted by them and ruin their lives." As it is, anyone who would like access to drugs in many cities have it, all they have to do is go into a certain neighbourhood and pay with cash. The police can't control all open-air drug markets in urban cities. So, essentially, the choice is between freely available illegal drugs or freely available legal drugs.

If you make the drugs legal, you will remove the violence associated with drug organisations, as it will no longer be possible to fight over territory when any reputable store could carry drugs. Our money and effort is better spent on improving the public school system (which is charged with educating all of those who live in the lower class neighbourhoods), and helping any willing drug user to rehabilitate themselves. If someone wants to use drugs they can quite easily, whether or not the substance is legal.

Hank Robinson said...

Come on!!! simply say All forms of drugs. Do you mean those that are not delivered by a pharmacist? What do you mean? Is there an age restriction?

I believe when you say all drugs you have to realize the "can of worms" you are imposing on a lot of people. We already have a huge problem with the legalization of alcohol and drunk driving. Giving society a full reign of access to All drugs as you mention you have to realize the full scope of problems you are opening up. So OK you use the profits so the govt can now fight and educate the problems you have now opened up.

The general population unfortunately is not that smart. For example, how many people watch mindless TV that promotes materalism they don't need?

I predict a total access to all drugs when be the downfall of this country to rationalize the use of all drugs now that it is all legal.

I really believe this train of thought is short sighted.

Scott Pender said...

The "War on Drugs" has become an industry unto itself with lots of people lobbying for it to continue in spite of its obvious ineffectiveness.

The users are the problem. In the US and other rich countries, we put enormous pressure on Mexico, Columbia and Peru to stop production and in turn we do little to stop drug use.

I have a friend who was an undercover drug cop for years, working and living in Columbia, Mexico and Thailand. He is retired now. He thinks the whole thing is a waste of time and money. It can not be stopped as long as there is so much money to be made from it. He says we should legalize and tax the stuff and then spend half the money we currently spend on law enforcement on education and rehab.

We have been losing this "war" for 30 years, it is time for a new approach.

Timothy said...

Hey Hank,

I know it sounds really radical, but I think you're underestimating how easy it is to get drugs in many of the major American cities. Many neighbourhoods are based around drug markets. There already is free access to drugs, so the choice is whether you want it to be administered by extremely violent gangs (which are responsible for the majority of homicides in these parts of the city) or businesses. I don't believe legalising drugs would open up any problems that aren't already there. If you live in these cities, and are a youth, if you aren't using drugs it is because you have chosen not to, not because you don't have access to them. Legalising drugs won't cause a mass epidemic of drug addiction. Maybe experimentation, but it isn't experimentation of nicotine or alcohol that kills people.

Now, I realise in some parts of the world drug access isn't so easy. Would legalisation be right for every city in every country? Probably not. But when drugs are fuelling most of the assaults/homicides, an explosion of the prison population that is completely unviable in the long run, and serious unemployment, legalisation (coupled with aggressive social support mechanisms for addicts) is the only thing you can do to meaningfully battle the social problems.

edward said...

Wow...thanks for all the intelligent comments and voices here guys. I think we all are agreeing in different ways that the focus should be on helping people caught up in drugs and decriminalizing while stopping waste on a "war" that is unwinnable.

I also don't equate Tim's comment about "legalizing" drugs as saying lets push drugs to the youth. Obviously we should put up barriers and limit minors from buying them just like we do handguns and alcohol. But as we all are saying I is obvious the supply is there for ANYONE who really wants it and that just will not change as long as there is the will to get and use drugs.

For me it comes back down to the fact that our governments are just dealing with the symptoms and not the CORE of the problem. It is the demand and how drugs are USED at the core of the issue. Just like guns and other inanimate objects...the fault doesn't lie with the object. It is the human use or abuse of that object. All things are at our disposal but not all things are useful.

Where does government intervention end on these issues? Are they going to outlaw sex because of AIDS and other STDs? Are they going to outlaw certain foods because they are addictive or have proven to cause disease or obesity? Are they going to outlaw automobiles because they kill tens of thousands every year?

The other irony not lost on me is that our government continues to allow chemicals and additives into our food and water chain that have been proven to cause cancer...and not just in rats. Why are they not passing "organic food" laws? Many people cannot handle money and debt, are shopaholics or gambliholics. Are they going to outlaw money or tell you how much you can make and how you can spend it (they are trying to).

Finally, a close family member suggested to me that I might fit in better in The Netherlands where they have liberalized the drug laws. While culturally or politically that might be true, I'm not quite ready to live in that climate nor become a "European". But sure...let's look at The Netherlands for a minute.

The Netherlands is not as liberal as commonly thought. According to Wikipedia and other sources..."Netherlands has a high anti-drug related public expenditure, the second highest drug related public expenditure per capita of all countries in EU (after Sweden). 75% is law enforcement expenditures including police, army, law courts, prisons, customs and finance guards. 25% is health and social care expenditures including treatment, harm reduction, health research and educational including prevention and social affairs interventions. ...Cannabis remains a controlled substance in the Netherlands and both possession and production for personal use are still misdemeanors, punishable by fine." The key difference in their program is that they don't throw the users in jail but instead offer significant resources to help those addicted to various substances. They also don't prosecute domestic production but still fight with significant resources the international trade and black market in their country.

The most significant data on this is the fact that having liberalized user laws has not caused any increase in use or addiction. Dutch rates of drug use are lower than U.S. rates in every category per percentage of populations. So once again I underscore to anyone listening...the USA and international "war on drugs" is a losing battle and waste of resources. Yes, please do pursue more the Dutch model. Your reduced federal deficits and decreasing homeless percentages in the streets of America's cities will show the results.

sonia bibiana said...

La solucion, para todo este problema, de tanto dinero gastado buscando erradicar los cultivos de coca, opio, marihuana etc, asi mismo terminar con el problema de la guerrilla en Colombia que produce la totalidad de la droga que se exporta. Es, LEGALIZAR a nivel mundia, y el que quiera usar drogas que las use, asi como se usa el tabaco, o el alcohol, o el sexo etc.

Anonymous said...

Great drug report thanks for presenting this.........

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