Winning the War on Drugs by Quitting

June 22, 2009

The United States has been waging a “war on drugs” for some time.  We even had a cabinet-level “Drug Czar”, who reported directly to the President of the United States.  Reminiscent of the Viet-Nam war, the more we had to win, the less we seemed to win.

The “Drug Czar” has disappeared.  Much of the Republic of Mexico is consumed by open gun fights, kidnaping  and blatant police corruption.   Now the American border states, especially in Arizona, have experienced a spike in kidnaping. All this from the drug trade.

What drives the drug trade?  American consumers, of course.  It’s the American drug user who pays for much of the drugs world-wide, from Afghanistan to Thailand to Columbia, but especially in North and South America.  No matter what our law enforcement seems to do, that demand continues to drive the growing supply.

From time to time, people voice the idea that it’s time to declare victory in the “War on Drugs” and go home – just like in Viet-Nam.  Their point is, there is no “winning” this war, so we should admit the undeniable facts and get on with our lives.

The Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (“LEAP”) is the latest group to call out for this solution.  LEAP claims to have 13,000 members according to Jack Cole, executive director of the national association.  He served in law enforcement as an undercover narcotics officer for 14 years in New Jersey. The group claims 102 members in Oklahoma, including 11 members who have law enforcement experience.  They just put up a billboard on the Broadway Extension in north Oklahoma City that reads, “Drug Abuse is Bad.  The Drug War is Worse.”

LEAP makes the argument so often made comparing the “War on Drugs” with prohibition of alcohol in the 1930’s.  Prohibition spawned the rise of gangsters as the alcohol-seeking public paid for illegal alcohol.  Similarly, LEAP argues that all the crime associated with drugs, most notably all the violence, comes from the illegal character of drugs.  If the drugs were legalized, the market would evaporate overnight, the profit would disappear, and there would be no need for any violence.  Moreover, by legalizing drugs, the use of drugs and drug users could be better regulated and monitored that it can now, when everything is simply illegal.  The idea is that the government could control the quantity, quality, production, price and distribution of all drugs.

The argument is a good one, but the American public is just too afraid to accept drugs, too afraid to accede to addiction-causing drugs, notwithstanding the acceptance of addiction-causing alcohol.  It just seems too big a “leap.”

No surprise that law enforcement types decry LEAP and its arguments. Mark Woodward, spokesman for the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs said legalizing and regulating drugs would cause more problems than it would solve.  “It’s frightening and reckless that a group of law enforcement officers would endorse something like that….Look at what happened when we legalized alcohol and prescription drugs.   Now they’re the two most abused substances globally,” Woodward said.

President Obama has called for $14.1 billion to support the “War on Drugs” for the year 2009, according to the Office of National Drug Control Policy.  There is no let-up in sight.  The war goes on, just like Viet-Nam.  We could never win, but we just could not make ourselves face the fact that we were not winning and – apparently – never could win.

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Investment in Drug/Alcohol Treatment

June 8, 2009

The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse has just released its three-year study.  For every $100 the state of Oklahoma spent on substance abuse over the last 3 years, $2.30 went toward prevention and treatment.  The state can save millions if it spends more on treatment and prevention, Joseph Califano said.

Califano is founder of the non-profit foundation, which is sited at Columbia University, New York. After serving in various government positions in the Department of Defense and practicing as a partner in the well-known law firm of Williams, Connolly & Califano, he served as United States Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare from 1977 to 1979.  From that position he was fired by President Jimmy Carter, reportedly for his aggressive anti-smoking campaign.

“In terms of public spending, it is an upside-down cake,” Califano said.  “It is an inexcusable waste of money when we could avoid all the human wreckage, and all the public spending that’s imposed on taxpayers if we could just move to prevent this disease, to treat this disease.”

The report ranks Oklahoma twenty-second among the fifty states in percentage of substance abuse spending for prevention and treatment.  “The middle of the pack isn’t good enough…I would like to see us leading the nation,” said Terri White, state secretary of health and mental health and substance abuse services commissioner for the state.  “This report is a national study confirming what we know in Oklahoma, which is when you invest in the prevention of addiction and the treatment of addiction, the overall costs to the state go down even above what you spend.”

Oklahoma’s drug court costs about $5,000 per offender, whereas incarceration costs from $10,000 to $19,000 per offender per year.

Suggestions are that funding more treatment programs could come from a sales tax on alcohol of one or two cents or from the $95,000,000 Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust.

The report is based on data from 2005.  New Hampshire spent $0.22 per $100, while Connecticut spent $10.39.  Oklahoma’s $2.38 per $100 is about the national average.  The report states that most of the spending by local, state and federal government is for health care from untreated addiction, which causes or contributes to more than seventy other diseases.  In 2005, Oklahoma spent $24,600,000 on substance abuse, while the federal government spent $238,200,000,000.

The Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse estimates that 5% of the population over the age of 18 needs treatment for alcohol addiction (140,000 people); that 1% the population needs treatment for other types of drug addictions (21,000 people); that 6% of the adolescent population needs treatment for alcohol and drug addiction (about 20,000 young adults); about 7 ½ people need alcohol treatment for each person who needs drug treatment in Oklahoma.