[As part of a series of programs on the drug issue by the CNN show Lou Dobbs Tonight, populist broadcaster Lou Dobbs this week penned an editorial titled "The War Within, Killing Ourselves" -- a piece he concludes by demanding the nation commit to "victory" in the drug war. But informed observers of drug policy understand this to be an unachievable utopian fantasy based on flawed premises. David Borden, executive director of StoptheDrugWar.org, has written a response to Dobbs' piece that is modeled after it, paragraph by paragraph, but which tells the real deal.)]
WASHINGTON (Drug War Chronicle) -- We're fighting a war that is inflicting even greater casualties than the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and which over time has cost as much money. We're losing the War on Drugs. Actually, we've had it all wrong from the beginning.
While Walters focused on a marginal decline in casual drug use, he made no mention of the shocking rise in drug overdoses. According to CNN anchor Lou Dobbs, "the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week reported unintentional drug overdoses nearly doubled over the course of five years, rising from 11,155 in 1999 to 19,838 in 2004. Fatal drug overdoses in teenagers and young adults soared 113 percent." Hundreds of heroin users died last year when a batch of heroin laced with the powerful synthetic opiate fentanyl worked its way through several major cities.
If drugs were legal, users would be less likely to overdose, because instead of buying drugs on the street, where purity can fluctuate wildly and the batch one obtains might be adulterated, they would get them from licensed, regulated distributors and manufacturers and would know what they were getting. It's not surprising that people like Walters or Dobbs wouldn't like such ideas. But short of ending prohibition, lives could be saved even now by making the overdose antidote naloxone widely available. Tragically, drug czar Walters has opposed even that.
Obviously, John Walters and Lou Dobbs aren't facing reality. There is simply no excuse for causing the destruction of so many young lives through these counterproductive prohibition laws.
How can anyone rationalize the fact that the United States, with only 4 percent of the world's population, holds 20 percent of the world's prisoners? More than half a million of our incarcerated are there for nonviolent drug offenses.
Drug prohibition was enacted 93 years ago, long before former President Richard Nixon called drugs "public enemy number one" and pushed through the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. Since then the government has waged a century-long war of aggression on its own people, but a futile one. Though supply-side enforcement strategies seek to discourage use by making drugs less available and therefore more expensive, measures of drugs' availability have gone in the wrong direction: Heroin, for example, sold for $329 per gram in 1981 but $60 per gram in 2003. Cocaine prices have dropped to a similar degree.
As Dobbs has pointed out, "more than two million inmates in our nation's prisons meet the clinical criteria for drug or alcohol dependence, and yet fewer than one-fifth of these offenders receive any kind of treatment" even though "studies show successful treatment cuts drug abuse in half, reduces criminal activity by as much 80 percent." Too bad we use up valuable treatment slots on people who aren't really addicted but get "referred" to treatment programs by the criminal justice system anyway, many of them mere casual users of marijuana.
In the midst of the global war on terror along with wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, illicit narcotics trafficking made possible by global drug prohibition is giving aid to our enemies through the easy, unregulated profits it makes available to them. We must repeal these abusive, self-destructive drug laws, while providing positive alternatives for youth, successful treatment for Americans struggling to beat addictions, and harm reduction programs like syringe exchange for those who are not yet ready to quit drugs.
Whatever course we follow in prosecuting other wars, we must commit ourselves as members of this great society to only one option in the War on Drugs -- victory through legalization.
Though Lou Dobbs calls legalization "ridiculous," the opinions expressed in this commentary are shared by many of the most thoughtful and respected people throughout the world including judges, attorneys general and heads of state.