The “War on Drugs” consumes people and money. Blacks and whites use drugs at about the same rate, yet 10 times as many African Americans are in prison for drug offenses.
The human cost
Jose Guerena joined the Marines in 2002, and served two tours in Iraq. In May, 2011, in Tucson, AZ, Jose had just worked an overnight shift and was sleeping when his wife, Vanessa, heard noises outside their house and saw a man through the window. Jose told Vanessa to hide in the closet with their four-year-old son and left the room. Jose Guerena was shot at least 60 times as a SWAT team burst into his house. Vanessa called 911, but the SWAT team prevented the paramedics from reaching Jose who died.
In Utah in September, 2010, the Weber-Morgan Narcotics Strike Force fatally shot Todd Blair three times in the head and chest during a raid. The video shows an officer crashing through the door and shooting Todd without warning. Todd wasn't even the person they sought in the warrant.
How many more people have been murdered in the "War on Drugs?"
Three facts dictate that we can never win a war on drugs.
These are facts — not feelings or opinions. Drugs tend to trigger
hysteria rather than calm and reasonable thinking; please think about these facts.
First fact: many users become addicted to drugs. They feel physical/psychological demands for drugs. How do people respond? Denial
of being addicted. Mark Twain said it is easy to quit smoking;
he’d done it a thousand times. Ask recovering alcoholics to talk about the facets of their denial.
Most people who are addicts crave their drugs until they receive intervention,
such as twelve-step programs or medical-psychosocial programs. Most of
these approaches depend on the addict admitting their lives are out of
control and they want to quit (they stop denial) and a "moral
inventory" probes for personal causes.
crave drugs — they need them frequently.
Supply and demand
The second fact is the law of supply and demand. Because "customers" are addicted, they continually
demand. The cost
will rise when the supply is limited or risky — due to the war on drugs! People who are addicted
require their drugs frequently; they must be satisfied
at any cost. Therefore, addicts often resort
to criminal activities to get the money to supply their craving. Supply-and-demand motivates some to develop new drugs to
try to hook people, creating more demand.
Purity and strength
Purity and safety is the third fact. Alcohol and nicotine are manufactured
under controls, so users know it is pure and they know the strength
labeled on alcohol. Illegal drugs have neither, which causes many
medical problems. Users pass out, go into coma, catch diseases,
and die because the drugs are of unknown strength created or diluted in
labs that seldom are sterile, using needles that are contaminated.
- create addictive craving —
- a demand that must
be supplied at any cost, and
- purity is irrelevant.
There is a far better
way that requires a paradigm shift from criminal to medical.
Since the demand comes from people who are psychologically or medically
hooked, change the way we supply the demand. Actually, countless
people who were hooked continue to be productive workers and tax payers
while their addictive needs are covertly met. The cost per dose is
Consider the true experience of Dr. William Stewart Halstead (1852–1922).
He started the practice of medicine in New York in the 1870s and was
soon one of the most promising surgeons. He researched and found that
cocaine injected near a nerve was a local anesthesia, which was a major
contribution to surgery. But he had tested this on himself first, and
became addicted. His medical work suffered, and learning of his addiction,
a fellow physician, William Henry Welch, hired a schooner with trusted
sailors to sail at sea for months away from cocaine to break the addiction.
His skill as a surgeon returned. Dr Welch invited Dr. Halstead to join the
doctors forming John Hopkins in a minor appointment. However he was
such a brilliant surgeon, Halstead became one of the “big four” of
John Hopkins Hospital. One of the four, Dr. Osler, knew that his addiction
continued though he switched to morphine. Dr. Osler wrote later that
Halstead was able to reduce his daily dose to less than three grains,
on which “he could
do his work comfortably and maintain his excellent physical vigor.”
There are other similar examples, but secret because it
is illegal to maintain an addict safely. In England
for about fifty years physicians gave addicts the dose they needed. Later
this evolved into clinics with careful oversight. Often social workers
or others were available to help any addicts who wanted to try to break
their addiction. Meanwhile most addicts continued working and supporting
themselves. A similar program operated in the United States until the
Harrison narcotic law of 1914 defined addiction not as a medical problem
but a criminal one. Today some addicted people are maintained with the
proper dosage of safe drugs at great risk by physician or pharmacist friends
as was Dr. Halstead.
For more information and history read Licit and Illicit Drugs
by Edward M. Breacher and the editors of Consumer Reports.
If we treated addiction as a psychosocial-medical problem, people maintained
in prison at great expense and those on the streets using illegal drugs could receive
the dosage necessary for their addiction of safe, appropriate drugs
at actual cost, and offered treatment. Meanwhile
they could be working and supporting themselves. In our ghettos today dealing drugs is the way to make the most
money, and is how many families are supported. What is the cost to us
of this underground economy and the high cost per addict and prisoner?
Treatment is the ultimate goal in facing drug addiction and denial. Alcoholics
Anonymous and other psychosocial and medical treatments continue to
lead to sobriety and recovery for hundreds of thousands. The benefits
are far greater than the cost.
When will our legislators recognize the economy in treatment
If it is a fact that addicts are addicted,
then the law of supply and demand inevitably produces the illegal
drug trade with all its results, including impure drugs, unless
we treat addicts as addicts. Consider that we treat diabetics and
people with many other illnesses by maintenance dosages of what they
need for productive and healthy lives, with pure drugs of known strength
and proper dosage.
Two final unknowns; once drugs are no longer underground, but open and
honestly understood, will the attraction of drugs fade and
the number of people newly addicted drop? And if drugs were
available from physicians or clinics, with controls, how much criminal
activity would stop, since the cost would be much lower than present street
costs and most addicts would be working?
So, can a war on drugs ever be won? Or can we treat addicts
as people with medical and psychosocial problems?
Does the violence of today's drug war have the same root cause as Al Capone and other thugs of prohibition in the 1920's, which we repealed. Are today's impure street drugs like the bathtub gin of prohibition? Is the war on drugs really a war on people with a problem?
One more thought. Our prisons are filled with minority and poor
people, mostly male, convicted of possession. What are the costs of treatment for these as addicts rather than as prisoners? Decades ago The Dallas
Morning News studied every one tried for murder in Texas over
a period of years. They found that the more income an accused murderer
had, the higher the chance of not being convicted, and if convicted
the lower the sentence, and none sentenced to execution. Since drugs
are widely used
by higher income people, is income the reason so few are in prison compared to
Read President Jimmy Carter's opinion piece in a recent New York Times.
If you agree, print this to mail to your Representatives
state and national.
Copyright © 2004, 2009 John F. Yeaman