Friday, May 11, 2012

America on Drugs

Every day we hear new stories about drug violence in Mexico. For those who do not live on the border or who do not take their lives into their hands by traveling to Mexico, it’s just another part of the day’s news.

A mass grave here; a dozen decapitated tourists there. As the French say, the more things change the more they stay the same.

Since it’s a war, with good guys and bad guys, we like to imagine that it can be suppressed by the police and the military. Send in the cavalry; clean out the Zetas. We’re Americans and we’re a lot stronger and a lot tougher than Mexican drug cartels.

This might be true, but, in this case we Americans are as much the problem as the solution. Were it not for the insatiable American appetite for narcotics there would be no Mexican drug wars.

Every once in a while a Mexican politician will raise the issue of the American appetite for illegal narcotics. Les frequently, an American politician will pay lip service to it.

Still, we are proud Americans and we are not going to take the blame or the responsibility if those Mexican drug cartels do not know how to behave themselves.

Having now spent over $2,000,000,000,000 in the war on drugs we have not made illegal drugs any less available. The government estimates that Americans spend an estimated $65,000,000,000 on illegal drugs every year.

The drug wars continue. Americans continue to consume illegal drugs in massive quantities.

When you look at the numbers you start thinking that we would be better off if we simply legalized drugs. That’s the libertarian solution, prominently touted by John Stossel.

George Friedman says that the drug wars are a major foreign policy problem, but that America is not about to legalize drugs. The political will is not there.

Besides, many people have an economic interest in fighting the drug war. If you legalize drugs then what will happen to the jobs of those who are fighting these wars, from DEA agents to prosecutors to police to prison guards?

The industry fighting illegal narcotics is not just going to fade away.

Legalizing narcotics would crimp  the operations of the Mexican drug cartels, the Colombian coca growers and the Afghan poppy farmers. 

Funnily enough, we as a nation are in the process of legalizing narcotics, of handing out massive quantities of legal narcotics. It remains to be seen whether it will have any effect on the consumption of illegal narcotics.

As it happens, Americans are not only leading the world in consuming illegal narcotics, but we are now leading the world in consuming legal narcotics.

It isn’t even close. We crush the competition.

Yesterday the London Daily Mail reported that America consumes 80% of the world’s legal narcotics.

In its words:

Americans consume 80 percent of the world's supply of painkillers -- more than 110 tons of pure, addictive opiates every year -- as the country's prescription drug abuse epidemic explodes.

That's enough drugs to give every single American 64 Percocets or Vicodin. And pain pill prescriptions continue to surge, up 600 percent in ten year, thanks to doctors who are more and more willing to hand out drugs to patients who are suffering. 

As more people get their hands on these potentially-dangerous drugs, more are taking them to get high. Their drug abuse leads to 14,800 deaths a year -- more than from heroin and cocaine combined.

Surely, the business of illegal narcotics is good. But so is the business of legal narcotics.

Admittedly, it has different players and it is played by different rules. The business of legal narcotics does not involve drug wars and police action and judicial restraint. It does not involve shootings and beheadings and money laundering.

Its players are pharmaceutical manufacturers, physicians, pharmacist, and government bureaucrats.

When drugs are made legal, the narcotics-associated crime diminishes, but certainly does not disappear. Since governments and physicians restrict the supply of these drugs, there is ample opportunity for crime.

How many people started on Vicodin or Percocet or Oxycodone and then graduated to cocaine or heroin once they lost access to their physician’s prescription pad?

When the Daily Mail published its report, many Americans took serious offense. You might have noticed that Americans are very good at taking offense.

Could America’s addiction to illegal and legal narcotics just mean that America is bigger and richer and more powerful than other countries? Thus, it has more opportunities to indulge in narcotic pleasures.

Some people do require painkilling medications. But, some people in all countries require such medication. If we are consuming 80% of the world’s supply there’s more to it than physicians treating late-stage cancer patients.

More than any other, our nation is consuming itself on narcotics. Legalizing narcotics might calm down the drug wars, but, it will also make narcotics more acceptable. Having narcotics handed out routinely by physicians makes them just another medication. If America continues to drug itself into oblivion it will not long to be the world’s greatest nation.

Some of the usage is recreational, but some must be coming from the fact that when people become addicted to prescription painkillers they have difficulty weaning themselves off the medication.

And we should ask ourselves how many people take narcotics for mental pain, for the pain of depression and mental anguish.

If you’re feeling down and you need a pick-me-up do you go to the doctor to get a prescription for Zoloft or do you try out a recreational drug that, at the least, will numb the pain?

Admittedly, non-narcotic medication is widely available to treat these conditions, but often people self-medicate. Or else, they do not believe themselves to be ill, and see the drugs as recreation.

Unfortunately, Americans believe in drugs. It seems to be a correlate of believing in science. As a nation we believe that drugs will solve emotional and psychological pain.

Modern medicine has helped an enormous number of people by developing effective anti-depressants and anti-anxiolytics, but it has also tried to expand its market by over-diagnosing mental health issues and by drumming it into the collective consciousness that drugs can solve problems.

Some psychiatrists have even suggested that Prozac can make you into someone else. How tempting is that? You can solve all of your problems in an instant by becoming someone else. Of course, you will then have that someone else’s problems, but… science can’t do everything.

When you convince the world that all you need to do to feel better and be more productive is to take a pill, the world is going to get the message that when something feels wrong you should look first in the medicine chest. If it’s empty, you should ask your physician. If you don’t have a physician, then ask your dealer.  

For some people going to the doctor is a part of their culture. Everyone does it. For others, going to the doctor is not a part of everyday life. Developing an ongoing business relationship with a dealer is.

If you have a choice between sitting for hours in the waiting room of one of the few physicians who will take Medicaid and hanging out with drug dealers who have money, swagger, girls, cool clothes, and cars, which would you choose?

America has a two-tiered market in painkillers. The lower tier consumes massive quantities of illegal narcotics. The upper tier consumes massive quantities of legal narcotics.

In its own strange way America is legalizing narcotics, but, in so doing, it is removing the stigma and making them just another lifestyle choice.


Dennis said...

I am beginning to feel about drugs as I do about prostitution, that they both should be legalized. In fact where there is essentially no victim we should stay out of it. We could at the very least ensure the safety of both to both a willing seller and a willing buyer. There is little proof that usage would go up. We could tax it and apply the same rules and laws we do to alcohol.
Law enforcement agencies could be spending their time on real crimes and real victims.
At some point the government needs to get out of people's lives and there is a high percentage possibility it would take most of the crime out of it. Are we, considering the amount of money we spend, having any tangible affect against it?

anna said...

It's very true that opiates are overprescribed, often to older people who in turn sell them to younger ones. And they don't work that well, they dull pain but it takes more and more to get the same dullness. It's easy for kids with good social skills to get opiates off doctors, it's weirdly easy. But the main source is medicare people who have pain but only want the meds to sell.

There are some non-narcotic meds in the works, and once some of them are approved, we'll see a drop in the number of legal opiates on the black market.

I too am beginning to think that legalization of marijuana would save money and bring in tax revenue, but the others are rather too dangerous. It's cheaper to send an addict to a good rehab than to an expensive prison. And, strangely enough, when addicts have experienced a certain amount of sobriety, usually more than seven months, turns out they like sobriety just fine - some call it the new drug.

n.n said...

Legalize drugs and remove the safety net. Allow individuals to choose their fate with full knowledge that they are the cause.


Prostitution serves to devalue human life and relationships. It is a crime not against individuals but against society. It should remain a criminal offense.

n.n said...


The prisons system needs to be reformed. After committing a crime against society, the individual should spend their sentenced days serving it. They could, for instance, be sent to work in the fields, thereby replacing the illegal immigrant population, and the corruption which it engenders.

JP said...

The problem with drugs and prostitution is that the only way to solve the problem is to use the leafless tree.

If you aren't willing to permanently destroy the demand, you really can't solve the problem.

So, you really face the choice of whether you want to win or whether you want to permit it to legally occur.

Remember that prostitution is legal in America.

n.n said...


I did not know that prostitution was legal. Is that the case throughout the nation or certain jurisdictions?

re: Legalize drugs

With restrictions. Perhaps following the liability model assigned to distribution and consumption of alcohol.

Dennis said...

n.n I might agree with you except that it does not have to devalue human relationships and criminalization does not or will not stop prostitution. The time and money spend on criminalization could be better utilized dealing with real crime. My thoughts from a moral stand point may be another thing.
It is legal in some places and is defacto legal in others. I would prefer to see the seller and the buyer protected and there because they want to be instead of being controlled by a criminal enterprise.
What could be more damaging to human relationships than drugs and alcohol? Also is there not a one of us growing up who did not have an idea where the local brothels were situated including the cops?
It is not up to the government to save souls. It is up to those who profess religion to live their beliefs.

JP said...

Prostitution is a moral evil because it degrades human relationships. Just like pornography. Period. Maybe not a significant moral evil, but nonetheless evil.

The ideal consumption of alcohol is not zero. The problem comes into play with severe drinking and alcoholism.

Criminalization can nearly *always* eradicate a problem if there is sufficient political will and a willingness to use the death penalty. The question is whether you want to destroy the demand in this manner.

JP said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
n.n said...


Passing and threatening to enforce laws does not stop any crime. It only defines explicit boundaries for individuals who respect them. The criminals, by definition, ignore them, even when threatened with a punitive response, including severely curtailed liberty, or capital punishment. There is no intrinsic value to passing laws. Their value is realized in empowering and justifying individuals to act in their defense.

Prostitution devalues human life in a subtle but well-defined way. It reduces an individual's worth to the sum of their body parts. No, it doesn't have to end there; but, when it is properly negotiated, we refer to it as a relationship. Today's culture of "friends with benefits", one night stands, promiscuity, elective abortion, etc., are in the same class as prostitution, if only differently realized. It represents a progressive depravity, a regression to the basest state of the natural order. However, there is a second order, an enlightened order, directed by our consciousness and dignity. It does not override the natural order, but it does afford us an opportunity to elevate our stature above other animals.

As for alcohol, JP is right. There are benefits to human physiology from its moderate consumption. There may be some benefits from narcotics, but we are even less capable to moderate their negative effects, and their consumption should be controlled or at minimum monitored. We could also resign ourselves to respond to its effects, an ex post facto response.

What can be more damaging to relationships, perhaps betrayal. The consumption of alcohol to excess and narcotics in even very restricted quantity would constitute a subset of this class of injurious behavior.

No it is not the government's proper role to save souls. It is the government's proper role to not lose souls. It is improper for government to contribute to progressive corruption of individuals and society.