Saturday, August 8, 2009
The Drug Dilemma
The USA pays billions to Colombia each year and millions to Afghanistan's poppy farmers...in 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 observed...it 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.)