REPEAL AND REPLACE THE WAR ON DRUGS by Jonathan Weiss Esq
From the beginning of Nixon’s “war on drugs” to the present, most estimates of its direct cost to the United States are around one trillion dollars, this figure does not include indirect or associated costs. The costs of imprisonment fueled the drive for private profit making prisons (now the primary source for caging immigrant families). Increased border patrols and customs scrutiny add to the taxpayer burdens. Police time and training should be added. School resources are sometimes involved; human resources for business. The health delivery system is strained by wounds (and death) in the pursuit of “drug dealers and users”. The Courts must consider many cases which occupy prosecutors and defense counsel (whose availability for indigent representation in other area is decreased.) The costs to other countries (including vulnerability to denigrate them as havens of drug pushers. now being exploited by right wing bigots running the Federal government, attacking Mexico, etc.) is not included in the one trillion.
Addiction itself brings societal costs. Researchers at Penn State calculate that the opioid epidemic alone has cost about $38 billion in lost Federal and State taxes. The loss of productivity in all areas of work from academic to manufacturing is widespread. Many students use restricted or prohibited drugs, some on the theory it may help studying or writing or exams, but usually interferes with learning. It acerbates class differences as celebrities laugh and boast publicly about and cannabis, cocaine, and alcohol use and abuse while others, not so celebrated, worry about arrest and imprisonment. Addiction is almost always bad for the health (gambling induces stress) with additional economic costs. (Much more dangerous with no regulations or quality control). Many individuals struggle with it and some are preoccupied by it. Extreme addicts often think simultaneously about what they are producing or discussing and how to satisfy their craving. Drugs take on a special appeal to many young people not only for rebellion or for experimentation or peer pressure but also because they are labeled “illegal.”
Enforcement of laws primarily against the poor and people of color who have swollen the punitive punishing prisons in this country is a well known devastating defect of the policy. (The Minnesota Court of Appeals struck down disparate sentencing for “crack” compared to usual cocaine.) This condition leads to tension between representatives of the law and communities. The opioid crises has increased the number of heroin users. This fact raises the question which is why the Doctors who, stupidly seduced by the manufacturers lies, propaganda, and salesmen, don’t continue to prescribe opioids to the addicted so that they don’t fall into heroin hell. We will return to this question. Many sane student of this area indicate that addiction is a public health problem not an occasion for flawed law enforcement.
The question of what constitutes addiction is complicated. There is a range of individual attraction and use from habit to addiction. Some addictions such as to food result from basic needs. Physical addiction may be indicated by withdrawal and its speed. But gambling seems pyschological. Note it is now encouraged hypocritically rather than discouraged by many States with lotteries whose winning amount is overstated while winning possibility displays astronomical odds. Advertised aggressively, the deprived and desperate turn to these lotteries, losing needed resources. Sports betting is legal in some states while Casinos have multiplied greatly. Gamblers Anonymous helps some in many localities.
Freud predicted accurately that “prohibition” would fail. The demonization of Marijuana by the FBI (e.g. Reefer Madness) and others is fading now into legalization and medication. Most societies use “mind altering” substances from which effective chemicals can be extracted. (E.g. peyote and LSD.) Some “party drugs” like Keratin are now being used medically – in Keratin’s case, to fight depression quickly and completely. We have fairly good ideas about the deleterious effect of alcohol over time, but not of cannibis, etc. because, being illegal they were not and could not be studied for a long time and in large control groups. (Cf. Nurses health studies based on self reporting). What has been prohibited, may, in certain context be helpful but we need to know the other consequences: – opioids, synthetic, fentanel too, have helped with pain (and sometimes sleeplessness?), but they are addictive.
Alcohol is now legal and taxed, Cannibis seems headed that way. Nicotine (disgracefully adulterated and combined with other chemicals by its manufacturers) one of the apparently worse addictions with difficult withdrawal is heavily taxed (to the point of making it regressive with working people who seem to desire it for breaks in work paying the high taxes which mean nothing to the many rich). Gambling, we have noted, is now widely accepted. What is legal and addictive seems not to be different in nature than what is not legal but addictive.
Why not abolish completely the whole misbegotten destructive “war on drugs?”
With what would we replace it? We can recur for models to community health services and the War on Poverty community centers with social work, housing help, nutritional guidance, job training, counseling, child care, maternal care, Head Start, and legal services, etc. Different centers would deal with different groups of addiction.
Suppose we took all the money now directly spent in the “War on Drugs” and created many community centers (near addicts) which dispensed the now illegal substances for free in a center which also provided withdrawal (and death preventing) drugs for free.
Added to these would be the availability and offer of counseling, group therapy, social work, help with housing and families, healthy living styles taught, etc. – all available to those who wanted to withdraw or quit. These centers could also specialize differently given classes of drugs. All the above services would be provided along. with gentle verbal encouragement for voluntarily entering all the addiction curative services that might help (opioid addiction is not well served by the 12 Step programs) Voluntary services work better than those imposed. Allowing the use of the free addictive substances away from the center would keep addict apart and more likely to seek the services with the substances.
The first effect of free addictive substances now illegal would be the destruction of drug cartels and dealers at all levels. They could no longer claim to be filling a “felt need” like for other consumables.
The second effect would be to improve the health of those getting the substances. They would no longer be adulterated.
The third, perhaps most important, would be the abolition of the “war on drugs”. All its horrors would be diminished.
The fourth would be the correlative release of all imprisoned on drug convictions with rehabilitation made available. This release and support could ser ve as a model of services for release in general as we work towards the end of mass incarceration.
The fifth would be to remove the temptation doing something illegal. Many adolescents will now find other, hopefully less destructive, means for rebellion and testing limits and identity.
Will this encourage more use? Perhaps it may become desirable in the future to require some proof of addiction. For the moment, not, as pushers no longer have the motivation. We have the examples, without centers, of alcohol, marijuana, and tobacco (diminishing use advanced by negative ads, a possible tool.)
Will some never quit, although some users “age out”, Some never shed their addiction (although often many attempts finally work). Some like lawyers, stock brokers and others may remain cokeheads, while others still dread withdrawal and enjoy their “vice.” We have mentally ill (far too many since Regan began the closing of community mental health facilities) on the street and elsewhere in bad conditions. We can so classify the drug addicts and include those addicted to gambling, offering general social services.
The money to try this social services can be taken from, not exhausting, the money spent on the “War on Drugs.” Of course, the best way it to build the facilities immediately and then close down the doomed Nixonian “war”. At best, this could be accomplished in one budget year.
After this suggestion is implemented rather than considered “utopian” (as legalizing cannibis once was) we, as a society could move from satisfying cravings as a social health program to recognize the obligation to provide living essentials to all.
Now we have a sixth reason to end current enforcement, prosecution, and imprisonment. and then move to the best treatment modality.