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Drug War Failures and Drug Company Successes

In the May 1999 issue of Harper’s Magazine, Joshua Wolf Shenk’s article “America’s Altered States: When does legal relief of pain become illegal pursuit of pleasure?” states:

From 1970 to 1998, the inflation-adjusted revenue of major pharmaceutical companies more than quadrupled to $81 billion, 24 percent of that from drugs affecting the central nervous system and sense organs. Sales of herbal medicines now exceed $4 billion a year. Meanwhile the war on Other drugs escalated dramatically. Since 1970 the federal antidrug budget has risen 3,700 percent and now exceeds $17 billion. More than one and half million people are arrested on drug charges each year, and 400,000 are now in prison. These numbers are just a window into an obvious truth: We take more drugs and reward those who supply them. We punish more people for taking drugs and especially punish those who supply them. On the surface, there is no conflict…The drug wars and the drug boom are interrelated, of the same body. The hostility and veneration, the punishment and profits, these come from the same beliefs and the same mistakes.

The pharmaceutical industry is booming; the war on drugs is escalating. Are these statistics unconnected or do they reveal a deeper insight into our society? What factors influence our moral perception of drugs? What separates the good drugs from bad ones? In Shenk’s words, “When does the legal relief of pain become illegal pursuit of pleasure?” To answer these surprisingly difficult questions, we must examine drugs themselves-the origins of their legality and the reasons given for their moral status. This examination will reveal some misguided explanations to the questions above-explanations that have obscured a more urgent problem in …

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…cide for people fifteen to twenty-four to triple since 1960 (undoubtedly this rise in depression has fed the need for more legal and illegal drugs)? Maybe it is the discontent and frustration that is behind the recent school massacres that continue to happen (psychiatrists with their arsenal of drugs flock to these scenes ready to help the victims)? These are questions we must ask, and in this new line of inquiry we must not forget Shenk’s insightful words:

But we often don’t realize that the feeling is inside, perhaps something that, with effort, could be experienced without the drugs or perhaps, as in the psychiatric equivalent of diabetes, something we will always need help with. Yet all too often we project upon the drug a power that resides elsewhere. Many believe this to be a failure of character. If so, it is a failure the whole culture is implicated in.

War on Drugs is a Dismal Failure

With a bipartisan vote of 263-146, the House recently approved a bill that included $1.7 billion to combat the drug cartels of Columbia with additional military aid. In doing so, they perpetuated what could be one of the United States’ most misguided policies of recent history.

At least some Republicans can give themselves a pat on the back for attempting to remove the Columbian aid from the $13 billion foreign aid bill. Unfortunately, today’s drug war is largely a Reagan-era Republican creation, so intoxicating that even the vast majority of liberals mindlessly defend it. Regardless, both parties now overwhelmingly champion the war on drugs, leaving its opponents a mix of unlikely allies, from Nobel Laureate and economist Milton Friedman and conservative writer William F. Buckley Jr., to pothead hippies and the ACLU.

Begun by the Nixon administration, the initial goal of the drug war was interdiction oriented, as financial support was given to Latin American leaders that pledged to fight drug manufacturing. The Reagan years witnessed a drastic escalation of the war, as so-called drug “czars” were appointed to deal with the problem firmly. Though Clinton indicated in early 1992 that he would be willing to consider other solutions to the drug problem, once elected he simply continued the policy of previous Republican administrations. The result: in the ’90s over $30 billion was spent each year at the local and federal level to fight the war on drugs.1 Street crime and corruption has grown out of control, and prisons are so far over capacity that the majority of drug arrests go unprosecuted. Civil liberties have been jeopardized, treatment programs are under funded, and drug use has been increasing.

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…Works Cited

1 Drugs and Crime Facts 1994: Washington DC Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1995.

2 Eldregde, Dirk, Ending the War on Drugs; Bridge Works Publishing, New York, 1998. (All other uncited statistics are also from this source)

3 1999 Statistical Abstract of the United States-table 152.

4 Schaffer Library of Drug Policy, excerpted from: US Department of Justice “Report to Congress on the Activities and Operations of the Public Integrity Section”

5 Grinspoon L, Bakalar JB, “The war on drugs – a peace proposal” The New England Journal of Medicine, February 3, 1994, Vol. 330, No. 5

6 US Department of Justice: Drugs, Crime, and the Justice System, 1992

7 Blendon, ScD, and John T. Young, MPhil, “The Public and the War on Illicit Drugs,” Journal of the American Medical Association, March 18, 1998, vol. 279, no. 11, p. 827

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