A couple of recent news stories point out some of the flaws with the government’s war on drugs. Rush Limbaugh’s admission of his addiction to prescription pain killers is instructive on several levels.
At its most basic, Limbaugh’s case shows drug addicts come from all walks of life. Pop culture and drug warriors nearly always show drug users and abusers as members of the criminal subculture, even though we know that’s not the whole truth.
Drug users are among us all the time. They are our neighbors, our co-workers, our children and our parents. Data from the Department of Health and Human Services 2002 National Survey on Drug Use and Health show that although drug use is higher among the unemployed than those with full-time jobs, a huge majority of drug users, 74.6 percent, were employed at least part-time. So much for the stereotype of users not contributing to society. Do they all deserve to be locked up?
Instead of incarceration, perhaps it’s time to reconsider the way we treat those who partake of forbidden chemicals and do no harm to others. We’ve heard the arguments that drug use is not a so-called victimless crime, that the trail of victims stretches from the user all the way back to the original producer and all those in between who suffer as a result of drugs. What we don’t hear, however, is how many of those victims are not so much victims of drug use but rather the illegality of drugs.
Many victims of drug-related crime would not be victims if the drug war did not make drugs highly profitable. When large amounts of money change hands illegally, crime is fostered and financed. Take away the huge money incentives and the criminality will disappear.
The subject of ill-gotten profits from the illegal drug trade brings us to the second story that points out flaws in the drug war; the recent report relating to the shoot-down of an anti-drug plane in Colombia. The report highlighted several lapses in procedure that contributed to the loss of the plane and pilot, a Costa Rican working for a U.S. government contractor.
The plane was on a coca-spraying mission Sept. 21 when it was shot down by leftist guerillas in northwestern Colombia. The U.S. State Department, which operates the coca-spraying flights, was unaware of rebel concentrations in the area even though the Colombian army had the information. The usual procedure is to have ground forces move into a coca-growing area to clear it of opposition forces before the flights.
After $2.5 billion in U.S. aid to Colombia over the past three years and all the years of fighting the drug war together, it seems the involved agencies would have a more seamless operation. Instead what we have is a fragmented effort involving agencies from both countries with overlapping responsibilities and apparently little or no communication.
We’ve questioned the U.S. government’s involvement in drug interdiction operations in Colombia because of that nation’s ongoing civil war. Colombia’s leftist rebels have been financing their insurgency by providing protection to drug operations. Because of the Colombian army’s involvement in both the civil war and the drug war, a clear line dividing the two is difficult to define. It’s too easy for an anti-drug operation to blend into one against the rebels, risking U.S. involvement in the civil war.
Perhaps it’s time for the United States to re-examine our drug policies and take a closer look at what is working and what isn’t. After decades of prohibition, the fact that drugs are still prevalent seems to indicate the war on drugs is a failure.