The fallout from the so-called “opioid crisis” continues to play out across the country. Different jurisdictions have pursued harsh policy…heightened criminal charges, drug bans, and mandatory minimum sentences are usually the name of the game. Such action, however, only further ignores the unintended consequences of public policy that has led Florida, and other states in the union, down this path. Such a path involves an activity that has been the arm of American policy since President Richard Nixon declared it back in 1971…the War on Drugs. Declaring such substances “public enemy #1”, Nixon set in motion a program that would involve billions of dollars spent, thousands of lives incarcerated or killed, and many pounds of illegal drugs seized. Has the initiative worked to contain such a supposed villain? No.

While the heavy drug policing wouldn’t take place for decades, the origins of drug prohibition began in the early years of the 20th century alongside the temperance movement. Opiates, cocaine, and heroin were among the first drugs to be made illegal, followed by alcohol. When alcohol prohibition was eventually rescinded in 1933, the proponents of drug regulation turned to marijuana as a substitute. Despite the lack of scientific research backing up supposed worries about the danger of cannabis, prohibitionists led by Bureau of Narcotics commissioner Harry Anslinger succeeded in heavily regulating…and then effectively banning….the use and possession of marijuana. “Reefer Madness”, based off of the film which depicted a marijuana-induced man who murders individuals in his stupor, took hold over decades…with states and local communities joining the feds in building a prohibitionist public structure which penalized heavily those who sold or possessed the plant. Thanks to such a structure, not only have many gone to prison over such drug use…even if they weren’t a harm to anyone else…but it has also been difficult for scientists and others to understand marijuana more thoroughly. A substance understood legally to be dangerous, as well as studies having to focus on the harmful results of it’s use, effectively limited what could be done research-wise (http://www.popsci.com/science/article/2013-04/why-its-so-hard-scientists-study-pot). This has led to places overseas, like Israel, being were most of the innovation understanding marijuana use has taken place (https://www.cashinbis.com/israel-cannabis-culture-focused-innovation/). Not only has this kept the potential of aid to patients and such from growing, but also has held down knowledge into the harm that addicts and victims get from over-consumption of marijuana.

Despite such roadblocks, some concepts have been understood. Marijuana now is increasingly shown to not be as dangerous as prohibitionists have traditionally claimed, with therapeutic applications being shown to be possible, as well as exaggeration in whether legalization would have a deleterious effect on drug use and whether it is harmful for drivers to use (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3202504/; http://www.drugpolicy.org/drug-facts/10-facts-about-marijuana; https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/06/21/colorado-survey-shows-what-marijuana-legalization-will-do-to-your-kids/; http://www.forbes.com/sites/jacobsullum/2016/09/22/medical-marijuana-seems-to-reduce-deaths-from-pharmaceuticals; http://www.webmd.com/pain-management/features/medical-marijuana-uses; http://www.forbes.com/sites/jacobsullum/2016/03/17/new-study-suggests-marijuanas-impact-on-crash-risk-has-been-greatly-exaggerated/#3b8118fa1906; http://reason.com/blog/2016/05/10/aaa-finds-no-basis-for-equating-thc-leve; http://www.nhtsa.gov/staticfiles/nti/pdf/812117-Drug_and_Alcohol_Crash_Risk.pdf).

Draconian drug policy has also taken hold in other fields, like the aforementioned opioid issue. When looking at many new heroin and synthetic drug users, it is found that such users switched over from prescription opioids such as hydrocodone and oxycodone. Such drugs have been made more expensive and harder to get thanks to government regulations that have limited accessibility. Heroin, though illegal, became a more attractive choice due to it being cheaper and easier to find (black markets being what they are)[http://www.lynnwebstermd.com/dea-inflicts-harm-on-chronic-pain-patients/; http://archpsyc.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1874575%5D. Many such deaths are also not as a result of solely heroin, but rather mixing it with other drugs..including fentanyl.  It isn’t unheard of for illegal drugs to be more potent, which compounds the risk of ingesting such products in the first place. Increased crime also takes hold, with transactions being forced to solve disputes outside of the legal sphere. This has led to the rise of organized crime syndicates that take advantage of the drug trade, such as the Mexican drug cartels. Such a disastrous outcome also occurred during alcohol prohibition, and notably all of that lessened and disappeared after it was repealed (http://object.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/pubs/pdf/pa157.pdf; http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/03612759.1976.9945281; http://www.worldcat.org/title/economic-results-of-prohibition/oclc/2785674; https://archive.org/details/risefallofprohib00town; http://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/001141414; http://www.enotes.com/topics/report-enforcement-prohibition-laws-united-states; http://time.com/3665643/deadly-drinking/). Therefore, such individuals are on their own with respect to educating themselves on the substance/s, or being likely to come forward for help….as well as being increasingly in harm’s way as a result of a more prohibitionist policy.

Given such developments, it is clear that the War on Drugs has been a failure at curtailing addiction issues and drug violence. Despite all the conventional beliefs regarding the use of such drugs, they indeed can be of use in therapeutic measures. Even if not, it doesn’t necessarily follow that banning them is the solution. A market for such drugs does exist, and it will continue to exist whether illegal or not. The question is whether we would want such a thing out in the open where issues of addiction and use aren’t stigmatized, and therefore more likely to be met and faced with honest assessment. Prohibition has worked against that drive. Despite the conventional belief that such a war hasn’t worked as a result of being underfunded, research shows such a postulation to not be the case (http://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/3/9/e003077.short?g=w_open_current_tab). Therefore, isn’t it time for a different approach, one that focuses on freedom and medical knowledge? We’ll see.

Extra:

Contrast prohibitionist policy here and aboard with a nation like Portugal, which earlier last decade decriminalized all drugs (though not a perfect case, as the law still allows for the arrest of drug dealers, fines and other punishments can still be enacted on users even if it isn’t common, and heavy subsidization of state-run facilities involved in medical treatment takes place). Since such enactment, illegal drug use by teenagers have declined, maladies like AIDS infection have lowered, and deaths as a result of heroin and similar drugs have been cut significantly. Still, while the number of people seeking treatment for drug addiction has doubled, no indication is clear as to whether such issues are being resolved. After all, lowering of pathologies doesn’t necessarily deal with all the consequences that can arise from drug abuse. The level of drug usage rates post-decriminalization have remained the same or slightly lowered than those of other EU states…a refutation of those who claimed the rate would increase disastrously, but also raises questions as to the possible shortcomings of the public program in dealing with such rates. Still, a decent look at what a more decriminalized, therapeutic orientated policy bend might look like – https://news.vice.com/article/ungass-portugal-what-happened-after-decriminalization-drugs-weed-to-heroin; https://object.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/pubs/pdf/greenwald_whitepaper.pdf

In another demonstration of public officials crafting policy that continues to propagate the situation intended to be ceased…Nevada now faces a “state of emergency”. Why? Like other states that have legalized marijuana, the Silver State institutionalized limitations on it’s growth and possession, providing only some licenses for “approved” growers (aka monopoly)…which ended with supplies running out within a few days (and a black market still very much alive). How surprising. Here is an idea…why not just let those who want to grow and distribute marijuana have more say in how they go about that? I’m sure they’ll have a better chance of understanding the supply and demand question than bureaucrats do, if this case is any indicator – http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/nevada-declares-state-emergency-after-legal-weed-supplies-run-out-just-one-week-1629814

It might be difficult for some to contemplate this, but before the expansive drug regulatory road of the last century or so, drugs such as cocaine and heroin were more widely used for therapeutic reasons. In fact, heroin was marketed and used for treatment of pain, coughing, asthma, pneumonia, and other issues (http://wings.buffalo.edu/aru/preprohibition.htm; http://www.oddee.com/item_97276.aspx). Even some research, which like marijuana can be a mess of attaining, showcases medical positives with measured use of them. Heroin has been shown to indeed be effective at reducing pain levels, being more on point than even morphine (http://www.mhra.gov.uk/home/groups/par/documents/websiteresources/con033594.pdf). Cocaine can be used to treat lacerations, as well being useful in some measures of surgery (http://www.medicinenet.com/cocaine_hydrochloride-topical/article.htm; http://www.entnet.org/content/medical-use-cocaine). Level management of such drugs can possibly be useful in handling addiction as well (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6479016).

When looking at the lives that have been needlessly lost due to the War on Drugs, there are unfortunately many. The story of Peter McWilliams’s fight, and how the state destroyed his life by denying him the ability to take care of himself due to the drug he was using, is perhaps one of the more insidious ones. http://www.november.org/thewall/cases/mcwilliams-p/mcwilliams-p.html

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