The War on Drugs

by Norman Montgomery
Copyright (c) 3/4/97

Experimentation, emulation of adults, rebellion, and peer pressure are classic reasons for youth to try drugs. Peer pressure is a more politically accepted excuse, even though that requires poor self esteem, but seems less an indictment than acting like their parents. Enough adults have claimed they hit the bottle (drug, legal) over dealing with their adolescent children. Is there any question why youth try drugs to eliminate the stresses of passage from (hopefully) cared for child to self sufficient adult? The parent escapes reality, and the child learns the same skill.

Whether you're depressed, stressed, anxious, sick, tired, fat, or bored, advertising is continually telling us instant relief from all our problems is only a pill, or other drug, away. It is no mistake that a dominant soft drink is named for, and originally contained cocaine. To hear the ads, the only things drugs cannot fix can be fixed with a Credit Card.

Public policy has been guided by politics instead of the much studied inherent effects of drug use. Gallileo, the Huguenots, authors, publishers, and Martin Luther King can testify people attack when they felt threatened, even though the attack is often aimed at something or someone other than the real threat. Understanding a threat is the first line of defense. First, we need to know what we want, for only then can we decide what we don't want. We, as a society, have an approach-avoidance response to drug use. As a pluralistic society, we are not sure of what we do and do not want, which allows some vocal elements to dominate, as the less certain try to decide.

Desired effects of "drug abuse" usually relate to mental state. Unscrupulous employers have encouraged, and even supplied amphetamines, while the more civil provide coffee. If you doubt the addictive (literally, not habituating) nature of caffeine, use the same grounds for the black pot as the orange topped one; it is not a pretty scene.

Effects relate to groups of drugs. The hopeless do not use amphetamines, but the hopeful do. Feeling full of energy is one strong motivater for those in a reasonable environment. The bored and creative may seek new experiences in hallucinogens. Failure to perceive themselves as doing well enough leads some to Valium, barbiturates, and their relatives.

Those feeling very oppressed, be it by the world or extreme stress (including internal stresses), tend toward the narcotics which eliminate those feelings, including heroin and cocaine. Narcotics have long been a focus, to the point that not all "narcotics" according to the law are narcotics according to medicine. The long villainized and prosecuted opiate family is rather benign compared to the cheaper and deadlier barbiturates. The depressed and the truly hopeless frequently succeed in blotting out the world (often permanently) with barbiturates, or a speeding car into a bridge abutment for a more permanent solution (look at the correlation with those accidents and depression). Drug enforcement side effects are deadly.

Public policy citations tend to miss the mark on the very real undesired, unpleasant effects of drug use. Propaganda claims of the dangers of heroin use exceed reality. Unlike the barbiturates, the worst problems do not result from the drug use itself. Overdoses, AIDS, hepatitis, complications of withdrawal without health care, and gunshot are the side effects of the drug policy.

Other drugs, often dodges around drug law, have had the same record. Without knowledge about them, appropriate response is not possible. "Ecstasy," just this side of the law, brought to us by the greedy, supplys a high for clubs. Remember "STP" of the '60's, created by the U. S. Army, killed some people engaging in the same basic behavior as "grunts" on a furlough beer bust.

A drug user is a second class citizen, and unless wealthy, cannot get what most citizens take for granted. They cannot get medical attention without great risk, nor seek police protection from threats. When mugged, the addicts find themselves in danger of imprisonment themselves.

Once outside the law, they find it easier to use illegal means, ones we truly oppose, of making a living and feeding their addiction and avoiding reality with drugs than trying to work and be a normal member of society.

Drinking is legal, and for most, socially desirable, just as a chocolate eclair is desirable in the appropriate setting and proportion, even though both can kill. Driving while impaired by any substance is illegal. Marijuana has tended to follow alcohol use patterns, but is illegal.

Arguments for prohibition all sounded good, but it failed abysmally at its aim, and succeeded in creating great wealth and organization for criminals. Al Capone would have been a cipher without the profits due to prohibition. We are now using the prohibition approach for (other) drugs.

Alcohol is much less of a problem now that the true aims are dealt with more than attempting to reform all, whether they want to or not. The "skid row bums" are now more likely to be "de-institutionalized" mentally ill people than just alcoholics.

Use patterns continue in spite of our supply side "war on drugs," which is showing similar escalation in expense and as much success as the end stages of the "war on poverty" and the Viet Nam war. Currently the heroin use in Baby Boomers is rising faster than in teens, though it does not get the same attention. The Federal Government's efforts with "Reefer Madness" and the like are legendary, and have discredited government claims for generations.

Zealous anti-drug policy has lead to revision of priorities for our society. A man in southern California was killed in his bedroom by police on a drug raid executed on a warrant issued with insufficient legal cause. No drugs were found. Nobody was punished. If he had not been a millionaire, with reporters monitoring as closely as they could, I have little doubt that some drugs would have been "found," and an innocent man's life taken and forgotten, and none the wiser. He was rich, so at least we heard about it, and I remember.

So desperate are we in the pursuit of this Grail that we have tollerated abuses that our founding fathers sought to prevent. Privacy is a basic value of our society that is frequently subordinated by law enforcement with warrantless wiretaps. "Forfeiture of assets" is a very significant fine imposed without the need to prove guilt, and has stood when the criminal charges failed. The city of Newport Beach, California, is guilty of confiscating a man's apartment building because of a tenant's possession of some marijuana, yet it did not charge the owner of the marijuana. Financial interest was the author of this travesty.

Enforcement expense is very high. It is a supply side approach, involving taking tax money to pay officers to prevent extremely profitable trade. Indeed, drugs become most lethal in the great profits that create an economy. Since millions of dollars are involved, the stakes are deadly. Since the stakes are now deadly, the price, and profits, go up.

Our poor domestic control has lead to attempting coercion of other governments to fight our supply side war. Foreign affairs get tricky when they get more money in free drug trade than we give them to fight drugs. Domestically, they face opposition to closing a profitable market.

Funding this "war" has resulted in war profiteers, and opportunities to compromise the ethics of many. Profits are on both sides of the drug war. Arms merchants are notorious. Officers face corruption in governments and their own ranks. Temptation leads to corruption all too often, be it Zedillo's "drug czar" (ironic, a title of drug dictator) or a blind eye to planted drugs.

Billions are spent on prisons, courts, and police. Patriotism, charity, moral outrage, and the whole pantheon are invoked to fund this holy war to make drugs, excuse me, certain illegal drugs (Laetrile can wait) unavailable (pushing up the price and profits, and robberies to pay for them).

The drug war will not make drugs unavailable. After years with penalties on par with first degree murder, drugs are more available. Supply side controls failed to reduce the world's largest drug market. Profits are greater than the risk in sales and supply. While many will risk their life for the profit off fifty kilograms of cocaine, would they do it for the profit off the same amount of pork chops? Maybe we can try reducing demand and profit. With reduced demand, prices, and then profits and supply will drop.

To stop drug ABUSE, the same things work regardless of the legal status of the drug. Alcohol can serve as our paradigm. The individual must understand what the drug does, what the effect is on their life, and the prognosis with and without it. The cold, plain truth is needed. Propaganda is counterproductive. Each individual, and we as a society, must make an informed decision about what to do. Each individual will add their own emotions to the information. This requires something our culture is not much interested in: finding the balance.

Drugs can kill. Aspirin kills thousands annually (please do not take it with an ulcer). A rule taught in medicine, but not in the society at large, is "Anything that can do good, can do harm." Since hemoglobin contains arsenic, without arsenic there is no red blooded life, just as with too much. While too much fat will kill you, some are vitamins are only available with (a little) fat. A glass of red wine with dinner seems to extend life, and make it more enjoyable. Chugging a quart of Bourbon will kill you, and rather unpleasantly at that.

Some drugs are addicting. Cocaine, nicotine, and caffeine are addicting, so addictive potential is not the sole factor. Seconal and Aspirin can kill, so lethal potential is not the sole factor.

Understanding our goals is necessary. Just as I do not care if a person is a good Catholic, Baptist, or Buddhist, I do care about ethical behavior. Robbery, burglary, and extortion are illegal and valid social concerns, and it does not matter if it is for drugs, a car, or infant formula.

I don't care if the bus driver smoked marijuana on his days off, but I care a lot if his child is in ICU and he is unable to pay enough attention to driving. My concern is if someone is or is not Fit For Duty; I don't care about their drug use, but if they are NOT fit for duty, I don't want them on duty. Public safety is a real concern. What impacts my life concerns me, what doesn't, isn't my business.

The tricky area is the ramifications of individual behavior. Much of this has already been addressed, but will require more work. In California, if you are drunk, and drive into me, it is almost certain that you are uninsured due to a clause in your insurance contract. I must pay my insurance company to cover me in this case.

Even nastier, if my small business employer allows another employee to drive drunk and kill a bus bench of people, I am unemployed when the law suit bankrupts him.

I still would rather pay for some teen's education and drug treatment than face the possibility that the police may break into my house and kill me because somebody desperately seeking a way out of jail says I sold them some drugs.

Copyright © 03/04/1997 nom >Norman Montgomery