October 4, 2019 § 9 Comments
“Imagine if the government chased sick people with diabetes, put a tax on insulin and drove it to the black market, told doctors they couldn’t treat them, then sent them to jail. If we did that everyone would know we were crazy. Yet we do practically the same thing every day in the week to sick people hooked on drugs.” – Billie Holiday, 1956
“Today, our nation is fighting two wars: one abroad and one at home. While the war in Iraq is in the headlines, the other war is still being fought on our own streets. Its casualties are the wasted lives of our own citizens. I am speaking of the war on drugs. And I cannot help but wonder how many more lives, and how much more money, will be wasted before another Robert McNamara admits what is plain for all to see: the war on drugs is a failure.” – Walter Cronkite, 2009
“There were fewer than 3,000 overdose deaths in 1979, when a heroin epidemic was raging in U.S. cities. There were fewer than 5,000 recorded in 1988, around the height of the crack epidemic. More than 64,000 Americans died from drug overdoses last year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.” – Mike Strobe, 2017
I’m not sure I understand your point. We all know people whose lives have been destroyed by drugs. My daddy was in China after WWII, and he saw mothers giving their babies hits on opium pipes to quiet them down. I don’t approve of communism or the Chinese government, but when they took over, they went in and closed down opium dens and dealers by summarily shooting them, and when you go to China now, you really can leave your camera on a park bench and go back an hour later and find it still there, and you don’t see people messed up on drugs wandering the streets and bothering people like you do in New Orleans. Perhaps we should simply stop being so tolerant of self-indulgent people and treat them as folks engaging in criminal (i.e., socially destructive) conduct and do what is necessary to get rid of them. What is it that you think we should do differently, or what is it that we should understand? I apologize if I sound like an arrogant, mean-spirited old SOB, but it does seem to me we are a bit too tolerant these days. But I actually am curious, because I know you are an intelligent and rational man. What would you propose?
In the 1920’s, the federal government began trying to eradicate drugs nationwide by criminalizing them. The Federal Bureau of Narcotics was established for enforcement. Now, nearly 100 years later, what has grown into the hugely expensive “War on Drugs” has accomplished three things: it created a lucrative industry in which cartels and other criminals have made huge fortunes, and continue to; it has cost trillions of dollars, created a massive bureaucracy, militarized police, and has had little effect; and it has made ordinary citizens into criminals. Prohibition of drugs has been as ineffective, and has had the same result as, prohibition of alcohol. The statistics bear this out.
There have always been and always will be drug users. The question is how to deal with them.
I think addiction is a public health problem, not a criminal problem. Portugal changed to that approach in 2001. Drug dealers still face harsh penalties, but users who have less than a 10-day supply do not. With the criminality of drug use removed, voluntary admissions to drug rehab increased 60%. Rehab, not prison, is where those people need to be. When drugs are treated this way, and legitimate businesses manufacture and increase supply, the criminal incentive will fade and eventually disappear.
Politics, of course, is for now in favor of the war model. It gives politicians a convenient shibboleth to rally around. It employs hundreds of thousands of people. It gives legislators something to spend money on that most voters will bless. But it’s not working. When a policy is not working, we should look at it and see if there is a better, more effective way. Especially when that policy is nearly five score years old.
Postscript … I just now watched Christina Dent’s 18-minute TED Talk on the subject. She makes many of the same points, and more, quite eloquently and more persuasively than I. I recommend you watch it if you want to understand. Also, I recommend Johann Hari’s book, “Chasing the Scream,” which is thoroughly researched and well-written.
Good morning, Judge. I wonder if you’re familiar with Christina Dent and her program, End It for Good. She makes a compelling argument in her recent TedTalk, which you can find on You Tube at the link above. I sure enjoy your blog!
A friend told me about her. He would like for her to come to Meridian to share her ideas.
So good and so true. Thank you for bringing more light to these issues.
Thanks. We need to find a forum for you in Meridian.
I would love that! We haven’t had any contacts there, until someone who came to the most recent discussion in Jackson said one of their colleagues in mental health in that area is very interested in having one there. So Meridian is on our radar for spring 2020. My email address is email@example.com. I’d love to continue this conversation, because my lack of connections there will mean we’ll have to do more groundwork with people like you who do have them. Thanks! Christina
A friend and I will be at your program in Laurel next week. We can talk then. Looking forward to it.