The failed war on drugs
By Jim Poling Sr.
Published March 21, 2019
I spot the book on the shelf and am intrigued. It is titled The Border and the author is Don Winslow.
I have not heard of it, nor the author. Still I am intrigued, possibly because the title recalls TV images of displaced people massing on the U.S. southern border, and all the noise about building walls to keep them out.
I am intrigued, but I don’t usually buy books that are 700 pages thick and the last in a series of three, the first two which I have not read. But I do buy The Border, and I am glad that I did.
It is a work of fiction, entertaining as well as enlightening because it is fiction based on fact. One review describes the research as impeccable.
The Border, plus the other two books in what has become known as the Cartel Trilogy (The Power of the Dog and The Cartel), are about North America’s longest war – the war on drugs.
The war on drugs is almost 50 years old. It was declared in June 1971 by U.S. President Richard (Tricky Dick) Nixon who called the illegal drug trade the enemy of the people. (The current U.S. president has changed the enemy of the people from illicit drugs to the media).
After half a century, the war on drugs is a pathetic failure. The number of victims increases every year and now can be counted in the hundreds of thousands.
More than 70,000 people died of drug overdoses in the U.S. in 2017. Complete figures for 2018 are not available but will be even higher because drug overdose deaths have increased every year since the late 1990s.
Canadian statistical gathering and reporting is disorganized and bureaucratic, but it is safe to say that 3,000 to 4,000 Canadians die every year of drug overdoses.
Drug overdosing used to be mainly a big city problem. No longer. Statistical evidence shows that opioid poisoning rates are two to three times higher in some small centres than in the big cities.
Reading The Border will give anyone a better understanding of why we are losing the war.
For instance, early in the book the main character, drug war solider Art Keller, is riding a Washington, D.C.-to-New York City train. He stares out the window at the shells of closed factories along the route.
What happened to most of the workers, he wonders, even though he knows the answer. Far too many of them are unemployed and spending their time shooting up smack.
“It’s tempting to think that the root causes of the heroin epidemic are in Mexico,” Keller says to himself. . . . “but the real source is right here and in scores of smaller cities and towns.”
That is a key message about the drug crisis. The problem is rooted not in Mexico nor any other country that produces illicit drugs. The problem is rooted in American and Canadian societies.
Rooted here because we want the drugs. If we did not want the drugs, the illicit market would dry up and blow away. Cartels and drug gangs would disappear. So would the migrant masses crowding the U.S. southern border, all trying to escape the horrors of the drug trafficking wars in Mexico and Central and South America.
Drugs are a response to pain. People take them to escape physical or mental pain. Most illicit drug users want to escape mental pain created by the world around them.
Our approach to illicit drug use has been a military one – hunt down and lock up traffickers and users. Perhaps a better approach is to concentrate on what is causing the pain in our society.
It’s a social health problem. We need to look at the causes and try to eliminate or fix them.
We needn’t look far: shrinking job markets, inequality, poverty, racism, poor educational policies, the rise of far right thinking, the decline or our planet’s natural state and the resulting change in climates.
As the author said in an interview with Time magazine:
“We spend billions of dollars buying the drugs and billions of dollars trying to keep the drugs out. Let’s spend these billions of dollars addressing the roots of the drug problem . . . "