Asking the critical question
By Jim Poling Sr.
Reality often is more brutal than fiction.
You realize that when reading The Border, the 2019 novel about the Mexican drug cartels and their American enablers.
It’s a big book, too long at 716 paperback pages and with too many characters and side stories. It is a good book, however, that draws on real-life experiences from America’s longest war – the hopelessly ineffective 50-year-old war on drugs.
It is a heartbreaking novel that lays bare the savagery of the drug cartels, the inhumanity of the drug pushers and the tragedies of the addicts.
It also shows graphically the hopelessness of law enforcement professionals and others on the front lines of a war that consumes them. They soldier on, but the war on drugs is effectively over and the drugs have won.
For all the novel’s 300,000 words, one word is critically important: Why?
“What is the pain in the heart of American society that sends us searching for a drug to lessen it . . . ?” the novel’s central character asks. “I don’t have the answers but we must ask the real question – Why?”
Why did the wealthiest, once most influential and respected nation become the world’s largest illegal drug user? A World Health Organization survey of 17 countries shows America with the highest level of cocaine and marijuana use.
The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 72,287 people died from drug overdoses in the U.S. in 2017, a 10-per-cent increase in one year. There were an estimated 16,800 drug overdose deaths in 1999, so the four-fold plus increase over 20 years is stunning.
U.S. drug overdose deaths now outnumber deaths by gun violence and auto accidents.
Two hundred Americans dying every day of drug overdoses is a strong indicator of a nation in a death spiral. But the question remains: Why?
A start to finding the answer is found in the U.S. attitude toward shooting wars. For various reasons – some bad and some good – America gets into a lot of wars. And, history shows that since ancient times combat and drugs are comfortable bedfellows.
Cocaine was the drug of choice among combatants in the First World War. Amphetamines were taken in large numbers by front line troops in the Second World War.
During the Korean War the Pentagon handed out millions of Benzedrine pills to servicemen, some of whom made up their own “speed balls” by mixing heroin and amphetamine into an injectable mixture.
But drug use among American troops hit new highs during another lost war – Vietnam. The American military issued hundreds of millions of dextroamphetamine “go pills” to troops fighting the North Vietnamese. Researchers have estimated that 70 per cent of U.S. soldiers in Vietnam used some form of drugs in 1973, the year the U.S. was forced to retreat.
Drug use among American soldiers continued, and likely increased, during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
Many soldiers return from wars with drug dependence. One study done by the Drug Policy Alliance in New York shows tens of thousands of veterans in prisons and jails, a large percentage for drug-related offences.
Another answer to “Why” might be found in America’s fading dream. The promises of equality for everyone and opportunities for all have been left unfulfilled.
Immigration control, crumbling infrastructure and a growing chasm between super haves and growing numbers of have nots are among challenges depressing the national spirit. The challenges are not being overcome, or even effectively addressed, because of political polarization creating two opposing Americas.
There is a lesson in all this for Canada, which has its own serious and growing drug problem.
Canadian government agencies tend to jumble and confuse statistics, but the Public Health Agency reported an increase in opioid overdose deaths of almost 36 per cent in 2017 over 2016. There appears to have been another increase – of almost 10 per cent – in 2018.
There likely are many answers to the question of why drugs are destroying American and Canadian societies. Another critical question is how stop it. The answer is simple: end the political partisanship madness and work together to end this crisis.
That won’t be easy because as The Border novel implies, the tentacles of the drug trade reach into high financial circles, and governments.