The War On Some Drugs

“The war on some drugs” is one of the common names for the phenomenon. “Some drugs” refers to the fact that alcohol and caffeine are untouchable. Nicotine seems to be falling, but even it isn’t getting hit by the drug warriors, it’s dying a different death. Politicians tend to call it just “the war on drugs”. I’ve also heard it called “the war on civil rights”, for reasons which should be pretty obvious.

I know people personally who have been to jail for selling drugs. It doesn’t seem to have helped them any; rather the reverse in fact. And I’m reasonably sure they didn’t sell drugs to anybody who didn’t actively seek them out.

I also know a number of people who have been through drug treatment, or have an ongoing problem with a drug or two. Alcohol was involved in nearly all cases; but wait, that’s legal, isn’t it? Tobacco was also involved in nearly all cases; oh, that’s still pretty much legal too. People can destroy themselves with these things; but I’m very doubtful that the things are to blame, or that making the things illegal makes people less likely to destroy themselves. In fact, the uncertain quality of street drugs is one of the primary cause of people over-dosing; and this uncertain quality is directly due to their illegality.

Nick Davies wrote a two-part commentary in The Guardian 14 and 15 July 2001 which ends up calling for drug legalization. He says:

“Virtually every ‘fact’ testified to under oath by the medical and criminological experts in 1924 was unsupported by any sound evidence.”

To understand this war and to understand the problems of heroin in particular, you need to grasp one core fact. In the words of Professor Arnold Trebach, the veteran specialist in the study of illicit drugs: “Virtually every ‘fact’ testified to under oath by the medical and criminological experts in 1924 … was unsupported by any sound evidence.” Indeed, nearly all of it is now directly and entirely contradicted by plentiful research from all over the world. The first casualty of this war was truth and yet, 77 years later, the war continues, more vigorous than ever, arguably the longest-running conflict on earth.

This “war” is implicated in an amazing number of the worst bits of American history for the last 50 or so years. And much of the behavior is still going on. I mean the bad behavior; of the government and parts of the medical profession, in particular. And the behavior continues to generate unintended consequences.

The much-vaunted D.A.R.E. program spreads misinformation

For example, the government routinely lies about drugs to children and adults. The much-vaunted D.A.R.E. program spreads enough misinformation that parents feel they have to tell their children the truth, even when this requires telling them things they’d rather their children didn’t know yet. Many of the lies are so blatant that even young children catch them. And soon they’re doubting the truths they were told as well. And then they’re doubting everything that the government tells them. These lies, and the war on drugs, are one of the main reasons that starting in the 60s, and continuing to this day, most children and adolescents think the police are the enemy.

For example, illegal drugs are the major source of revenue for “gangs”. Pouring this much money into illegal organizations can’t be a good thing, either now or in the future. In fact, we have some idea what the future will be like; prohibition (you must have heard of that—the crazy period when we tried to outlaw alcohol?) essentially created the Mafia in this country. Yes, there was some connection to actual Italian (Sicilian mostly I think) criminal groups, but it was prohibition that put money into them. Without money, and the foothold in legitimate business that they bought with it, they weren’t that much trouble. With the money, we still haven’t managed to root them out.

Prohibition poured millions of dollars into criminal organizations

Prohibition is a good example of what we’re doing to ourselves again over other drugs. It caused people to lose respect for law (after all, drinking is a normal and important part of American culture), and it caused the government to use more and more repressive tactics (and got the FBI off to its big start), and those repressive tactics alienated yet more people. It poured millions of dollars into criminal organizations, giving them a size and power never before seen. And it caused the quality of the alcohol to be both lower, and more variable, causing more people to go blind and suffer the other symptoms caused by improperly distilled booze.

For example, the use of “no knock” warrants, and the “RICO” civil forfeiture laws, mostly grew out of the War on Some Drugs. And they’re giving the government bad publicity every day (you think people like it when they read about a mother having her house taken because her son was dealing some dope?), and making people fear and hate the government. Society depends largely on voluntary cooperation; in the long run this could be the fatal blow.

For example, the spreading practice of asking employees to submit to drug tests is straining even further the bonds between company and worker. And you notice who is being tested? It isn’t judges, who hand down legal decisions that are even, sometimes, matters of life and death. It isn’t police officers, who carry guns and shoot at bad guys in crowded airports. It isn’t politicians, who write the laws that make this all possible. No, the people who have to piss into the cup are floor clerks at Home Depot and Best Buy and places; and those places even boast about this idiotic behavior by posting signs at their doors. (And others; employees of a number of big banks, airplane pilots, and so forth.)

There is probably no such thing as a “crack baby”

A reminder of some basic drug facts: It’s nearly unheard of for a patient to become addicted to drugs under well-run modern pain therapy — even (or especially) when the drug used is diamorphine, also known as heroin. Nicotine and alcohol are both more addictive than heroin. Alcohol is more damaging to the body than heroin; the problems with injected heroin are nearly all from bad sterile technique and a shortage of sterile needles, not from any inherent danger of the drug itself. There is probably no such thing as a “crack baby”; those are probably Fetal Alcohol Syndrome cases. Marijuana is less addictive and less damaging than alcohol or tobacco; but does cause some cancers (inhaling smoke seems to be a generally bad idea).

A lot of the lies about drugs seem to have become culturally ingrained in some circles.

In W.E.B. Griffin’s The Murderers the sympathetic, well-educated, main character (who hasn’t even been a policeman that long) thinks “once a junky, always a junky” about his fiance. It’s actually viewed as a good thing by many of the characters when she dies of an overdose.

There’s also some anti-drug absolutism, as I remember it, in Robert B. Parker’s Hugger Mugger

The problem, I think, is that one doesn’t see people using drugs who aren’t getting in trouble with them. So people can start believing that anybody who uses drugs is in trouble with them (use = abuse).

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