David Borden, Executive Director
Unfortunately for California schoolkids, as a result of the locker closures, some young people had developed posture problems, with resultant chronic pain, as a result of having to carry all of their books around all day. KQED interviewed once such student from North Hollywood. He typically carried about 30 pounds of books with him, which was 19% of his body weight, nearly twice the maximum recommended by the American Chiropractic Association. As a teenager he had become a regular user of Tylenol in order to manage the pain.
The reason I chose that story for my editorial that week was the unpredictable nature of it. There are a lot of things that are easy to predict about drug prohibition laws, based on historical experience. We know that prohibition causes crime, and builds up organized crime entities, by putting a lucrative industry with its hundreds of billions of dollars of annual revenues into a criminal underground. We know that prohibition causes preventable deaths, especially of the addicted, by ensuring that users of the banned drugs obtain them from that underground, which lacks the regulation and quality controls that legal industries have. We know that prohibition has a corrupting effect on youth, and others -- the guns and the drug trade in the schools issue that legitimately concerned California administrators is a frightening example -- by providing job opportunities for those who are attracted to the those moneymaking opportunities and the associated glamour.
But who would have guessed the drug war would lead to teen back pain? Lest any should dismiss that issue as unimportant by comparison with the harms of drugs, and of guns in the schools, remember that the guns and drugs didn't go away as a result of the lock closures. Did anyone really think they would, for that matter? Back pain is an issue that can deeply affect the life of a sufferer, young or old, and which for many can go uncorrected for a lifetime. Lockers are part of a school's infrastucture. When drug policy leads us to start dismantling infrastructure, that is a sign of a policy problem.
This week our blog reported on another unpredictable public health problem from the drug laws, a more dramatic and gruesome one. In Brazil, the drug war is exacerbating a deadly plague carried by mosquitoes. The problem is that one in four people in the city of Rio de Janeiro live in the poverty-stricken "favelas," or shantytowns, where pools of water are common during the rainy season, which attracts the mosquito population. But access for authorities to the favelas is hampered by Rio's raging drug war, hampering efforts to contain the disease. Of course, these drug wars are happening only because drugs are illegal, prompting the governor of the state of Rio de Janeiro to call for legalization last year.
After 14 years in drug policy, it's not so very often that I learn a new angle. Yet I have no doubt that there are many unintended consequences of prohibition which have yet to be brought to light, and many impossible-to-predict harms from prohibition that we have yet to see.