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Editorial: Yet More Unintended and Impossible-to-Predict Harm Caused by Drug Prohibition

Submitted by David Borden on (Issue #532)
Consequences of Prohibition

David Borden, Executive Director

David Borden
Four years ago, I opined about an issue that had come up in California, one affecting the schools and with which the legislature was grappling. According to NPR affiliate station KQED in Los Angeles at the time, many school systems had stopped providing locker space to students, because some administrators see lockers as facilitating the problems of guns and drugs. Of course, drug selling is a principle reason for carrying a gun to school, although only because drugs are illegal.

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.

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


Anonymous (not verified)

I love the fact that to prevent kids from "hurting themselves" by getting marijuana, schools make them go through incredible hurdles which as we see in this case is causing physical injury. Oh and the best part of it, in preventing kids from getting pot, they are now giving kids Tylenol which has killed more people last month than marijuana has in all human history.

Oy, does reading these things just want to make people to get up and scream at the the ludicrousness involved in the War on Drugs. I mean serious WTF do these school administrators and everyone else enforcing these bulls*** policies have any clue???

Fri, 04/18/2008 - 1:11pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

This fiasco, the eliminating of school lockers, is just another reason (as if we needed another) to home school your children. Then you not only have control over their education but also what your children ingest.

Fri, 04/18/2008 - 2:15pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

Duh. Maybe some of the wisdom gathered by our Founders in shaping the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights incorporates the potential for such "unintended consequences" attendant to violating those principles. What can we reasonably expect when we discard that wisdom and intrude on the "inalienable rights" with which we have been "endowed by our creator" for the sake of some misbegotten, political, expensive, and fruitless "war on drugs?"

Fri, 04/18/2008 - 2:25pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

It is the crooks and the stingy rich men who are making money off illegal drugs and avoiding taxes by keeping it illegal....

Fri, 04/18/2008 - 3:47pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

The most egregious harm of the so-called drug war has been to unleash epidemic food insecurity and malnutrition on the world. Because of 'marijuana' prohibition, farming and gardening of hemp for food has been outlawed, and knowledge of hemp seed nutrition suppressed. The "babyfood has been thrown out with the bongwater" for seventy years, impoverishing the world while institutionalizing the 'politiconomics' of poison and punishment.

An even greater harm of the "drug war" is that it is interfering with climate change mitigation strategies that could actually work. Using hemp agriculture as a way to sequester carbon, produce atmospheric aerosols to effect "radiative forcing," and production of cellulosic hydrogen and other biofuels, on a regional scale is a proportionate response to an immense threat.

In addition, the vicious violation of our god-given spiritual sovereignty, practiced for millennia in the freedom to farm "every herb bearing seed" is a flagrant violation of our "First Freedom," Article One, the freedom of "religion."

The REAL Question...

"How bad do things have to get before all solutions are considered?"

Paul von Hartmann
California Cannabis Ministry
Project P.E.A.C.E.
Planet Ecology Advancing Conscious Economics
Between the Dreams Productions

Fri, 04/18/2008 - 4:10pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

i recently read a news article that discussed the fact that forestry agents were increasingly being shot at when they came across plots of marijuana being grown on public land, most notably in california. it seems quite obvious to me that this is most likely the result of the strict three strikes law. afterall, if someone is growing pot and have already gotten two convictions against them they face no more harsher a sentence if they kill an officer in an attempt to avoid arrest than if they just submit to the officers. it is a life sentence either way. apparently for some it seems an acceptable risk.

Fri, 04/18/2008 - 11:41pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Nothing pleases me more than to learn of reports of narcs getting killed in action. They should have chosen a different career so it serves them right to die for NOTHING. I wish more were being killed because then maybe society would be a little more aggressive in reassessing the value of the resources being wasted on this lost cause.

Fri, 04/25/2008 - 3:05pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

As a VA patient who suffers from chronic pain I am required to sign a contract with the VA Pain Clinic so they can pee test me anytime to insure I am taking my meds and am not taking any illegal drugs. The punishment for failing this test is loss of my medictions till I pass one of their tests. This is relatively easy to do but this last time I realized that there is NO law requiring me to do this other than a memo from some big shot who thought it a good idea.
Once I became a patient I was sent to the Pain Clinic and interviewed by a doctor.
The doctor informed me that I would receive 5mg of methodone 2x a day. She said she decided on methodone because ,“it doesn’t have the euphoric effect of the other drugs”. I replied to her in a humorous manner by saying,” God forbid we should have euphoria when we are in chronic pain!” The doctor became very agitated and told me she wasn’t a candy store and 2pills a day was all I was gonna’ get! Needless to say , 2 wasn’t enough and it was increased to 3x a day. My regular doctor, (a physicians assistant), was aware that I used medical marijuana in conjunction with the methodone and the combination worked so well that on there were many days I could get by on 1 pill at bedtime. I would take one at bedtime and sleep thru the night without awakening in pain. The residual effect of that pill the next day coupled with an occasional puff of marijuana and I could last till 4 or 5 pm before the pain would start to be too much.
In 2006 my VA doctor said she needed a urinalysis from me for her records in order for me to continue to receive care. I lucked out and passed that one but failed one in January 2008. My methodone has been taken away and my days are much more pain filled than they were. I have been told that care will be withheld until I provide a clean
urinalysis. I could “study” and pass another test but this policy is so wrong I have decided to fight it for myself and all veterans who have been damaged by this misguided policy. I know of no law that requires me to take ANY test to receive medical care granted to me by Congress. I do not believe the VA has the legal or moral authority to withhold medical care based on an arbitrary and possibly illegal policy.
I filed a complaint at the Cincinnati VA patient affairs office on Mar 31, 2008.
I am aware of this probably being a national policy. Most “pain clinics” require urine testing but I never get a clear answer as to who requires this testing. My wife was a pain patient and she was tested a lot. She did everything the doctors said and took her meds religiously. They still claimed there was a problem with her test and she was refused further treatment. When it happened at a second pain docs clinic we put 2 and 2 together. These irregularities seemed to arise soon after my wife would not agree to pain pumps and other invasive treatments likely to cause more harm than good. It seems the urine testing for pain patients is more a tool to get rid of patients that are hard to treat or the clinic didn’t want to treat or just wanted to get rid of.
Urine testing pain clinic patients causes more addiction and black market activity than if they just gave these people their meds. The intention of this policy is to reduce drug abuse and insure better treatment for patients. The reality is it fails to limit drug abuse and drives patients into illegal drug activity, not to get rich dealing drugs, but get the medical care they are denied by this punitive and vindictive policy.
My complaint deals with how this policy negatively affects the Veteran community however it seems to be a problem throughout the medical community both civilian and military. This probably is a DEA policy. Good for them but a disaster when it comes to the docs and patients. Did you know that during ww2 there were only a few Gestapo agents. All the work was done by civilians. The excesses of the Gestapo were only made possible by the cooperation of organizations and citizens. It is time the medical community stands up and refuses to cooperate when it becomes apparent these policies do not work and cause more damage than they fix.

Sat, 04/19/2008 - 11:17am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Hello,I am not a vet but I know exactly what you are going through with pain management.I underwent several massive spinal surguries between the ages of 18-and 21 years,one of the operations took 18 hours to complete and although it prevented me from becoming paralyzed,my pain and lack of mobility actualy increased.Since the age of 16,at least ,I have taken oppiate medication to control the constant pain. At this time I am in pain management,and am forced to undergo illegal drug screening at least twice a year just to keep my medication.The tests,which I pay for out of my own pocket,are expensive and unnesassary,and make the total cost of my treatment nearly unaffordable.I do not have insurance,Due to the fact that I earned to much money while working several years ago,actualy I went over the limit set by medicare ,by several hundred dollars! My pain management doctor advised me to take it easy but I am so far in debt,thanks partially to the cost of the urine tests that I am forced to often preform jobs that require heavy lifting and constant stooping,just to be able to get by.It seems to me that these mandatory tests are a form of extortion,and black-mail! We are forced to undergo a unreasonable search,in exchange for medical treatment!When you were a young man this kind of scam would have been seen as just what it is,a scam! The labs love this arrangement,and in regards to the whole issue of drug prohobition,it seems to me that it has created a new medical proffesion,that is not really a proffesion,that being pain-management.I am only 39 and I can remember the days that pain was considerd a symptom of what ever had led you to the doctor to begin with,and therefore,your doctor treated your pain.I could go on but the more I think about this situation the angrier I get,because it is obviously one of the greatest scams of all time',the drug war and every thing it has led to '.The supposed justification for drug prohobition is that drugs are dangerous,and bad for you,but dam,car accidents kill far more people than illegal drugs,and we certainly would not tolerate a war on driving!Also,even if illegal drugs were the most dangerous substances in all of history ,should not a free people be free to engage in potentialy dangerous behavior?If you are not free to take risks than you are not free!I hate to say this but in a way I am glad that you and other veterans are expeariancing this problem,hopefully the goverment and the segment of scociety supporting prohibition will listen to you and see where we have gone wrong.People like me are easilly overlooked and dismissed,even though I am telling the truth.The truth is as long as people live under drug prohibition we are not a free people,yes we have manny freedoms but those are being eroded,and many of those freedoms we traditioaly had were afforded us just to keep us productive.Slaves with to many chains are unproductive! I hope you are not offended by my words,you afterall,fought for this country,and I do have respect for veterans,everyone should,even your doctor who obviously does not ,and your goverment who allowed you to risk your life in battle,in the name of freedom,but will not allow you to smoke a natural herb because it is bad for you!You should be offended by that!Well thanks for your time ,and please speak up and out for all of us,in hope that one day we will be a free people.

Sun, 04/20/2008 - 4:22pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

I'm a 48 year old man who at the age of 18 broke my back. At the age of 25 I broke my neck. I now live with severe chronic pain in my low back, nerve damage in both legs and both arms. I can only sleep about three hours at a time and sometimes will go for two or three days with no sleep at all. My legs and feet burn like they are on fire all the time.

I spent 28 years under the care of the medical community of idiots and have spent well over $120,000 dollars of my own money with these morons despite the fact that much of the time I had health insurance.

All the while I was forced to endure many painful treatments and surgeries which I'm convinced now only added to my problems. And yes I routinely was forced to submit to their piss tests to continue my medical treatment. All the while expected to put up with their condescending attitudes, unwanted invasions into my personal life, and their “I’m greater that GOD” mentality. Of course the moment you question a procedure or treatment you are immediately labeled an agitator, and threat to their unwanted and in my opinion illegal control over our lives.

I have worked in the pharmaceutical drug manufacturing sector as a mechanical designer and have a very clear understanding of the processes, components, and ingredients used in these drugs. The pharmaceutical industry is the most godless, secretive, and disgusting industry I’ve ever worked in. Many of the LEGAL drugs being pushed on us directly or indirectly incorporate the use of fetal tissue. The whole “Women’s Choice” movement in this country really isn’t about legal and safe abortions for women, it’s really about the pharmaceutical industries easy access and acquirement of fetal tissue for the production of their toxic LEGAL drugs they are pushing down our throats. When the pharmaceutical industries can’t procure enough fetal tissue domestically the Chinese government is more than happy to supply them with all the dead babies they need. At first I didn’t believe this to be possible, but I have seen with my own eyes the pallets of dead Chinese babies on ice in Styrofoam coolers for myself.

It has unfortunately been my personal experience that most of these LEGAL drugs that are pushed down our throats are actually quite toxic and often cause more health problems and harmful side effects than they alleviate. I used to take Demerol, Morphine, Codeine, Oxycontin, Mscontin, and many other of their high priced LEGAL drugs over the years. My drug prescriptions were routinely costing me more than $500 dollars per month. Years ago our medications were manufactured from plant derivatives which were safe and very effective. Because many of these plants are harvested from South American rain forest the pharmaceutical companies felt that this practice was too costly and cut into their huge profits to deeply. So what did they do? They had their damn chemist throw together a bunch of chemicals which sort of resembles the natural remedies they used to produce but at a fraction of the cost. Remember the pharmaceutical companies aren’t really about helping people they are really about producing huge profits for themselves at our expense.

I’m now so disgusted with the medical community, the pharmaceutical companies and their high priced LEGAL drugs which are really of very little help to me that I have completely cut all relationships with them. I no longer have a personal physician and am actually much better off for it.

Now I smoke the equivalent of two or three joints per week for pain relief. I only take two or three tokes from a small pipe when necessary to relieve pain. I have found that even this very small amount of pot consumption actually gives me more pain relief than the 200mg. twice per day of Mscontin or Morphine I used to take, and I now suffer from none of the terrible side effects I used to experience while using the very expensive LEGAL drugs I used to take. I used to spend over $500 dollars per month on the useless LEGAL drugs and now spend $50 dollars per month on ILLEGAL pot.

The local law enforcement Gestapo idiots have caught wind of this and now come by my house day and night with their dope sniffing dogs, follow me where ever I go, and even listen in on all my telephone conversations. It became apparent they were listening in on my telephone because I noticed that whenever I made an appointment with anyone over the phone when I would arrive at the location I would see numerous undercover cop cars already there. When I would leave the whole damn bunch of law enforcement Gestapo idiots would then follow me to my next destination. Some times when I traveled around locally it appeared I was leading a freaking parade!

After the many phone calls between my wife and her sister concerning our going to spend the afternoon and evening with my sister in law’s family for Christmas Eve the law enforcement Gestapo idiots saw this as their perfect opportunity. They used a screw driver and hammer on my back door, came into my home and illegally searched my home without a warrant. It was either the Coweta County Sheriff’s Department or the Newnan City Police Department who did this. Now to protect myself from the law enforcement Gestapo idiots I’ve had to install cameras inside and outside my home. This Drug War is really a bunch of crap! It is obvious that over the last 14 months that the law enforcement Gestapo idiots have completely wasted at least $200,000 dollars of tax payer monies following around and harassing a guy who has no criminal history or convictions what so ever. And is of no threat to anyone what so ever. Why should anyone care about a guy who smokes two or three joints per week to alleviate the terrible pain he suffers from?

Anyone who thinks we live in the land of the free is an uninformed fool who is living in a fantasy world. I think it’s high time for the citizens of our great nation to demand a complete overhaul of our federal government, our judicial system, and our law enforcement community. It’s time for us to return to a form of government “By the people…For the people” as our founding fathers had intended. Right now the deep pocket mega corporations, special interest groups, and political action committees totally control our political and judicial systems. It’s past time to throw all their sorry butts out of Washington, and for the people’s voices to be heard in Washington for the first time in many years. It’s time we returned to the true form of democracy our founding fathers worked so hard for, and fought and died for. What we are stuck with right now is a travesty. It’s an abomination to the memories and lives lost by those men and women who have fought and died to preserve our democracy, and our great nation. To honor those lives lost we must regain the democratic government which we have lost. We must restore our Constitution, our Bill of Rights which our current government tramples on daily and considers to be nothing more than a list of suggestions which they can disregard whenever they feel the need to.

Thu, 04/24/2008 - 5:44pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

I applaud your efforts and backbone in standing up to the establishment, aka; idiots o' plenty.

You who has already travelled a hard road, still has a long arduos road ahead.

Somedays I feel like less of a man for also not standing up to the morons, who because of simpleton ideas and uninformed attitudes make our lives so much harder than they have to be.

Sat, 04/19/2008 - 3:24pm Permalink
Giordano (not verified)

The drug war in Colombia is competing with oil spills and industrial pollution to sabotage the livelihood of Narino State’s Afro-Colombians, indigenous citizens of southwest Colombia, who possess a unique and altruistic culture.

As if dengue carrying mosquitoes in Brazil aren’t enough, the drug war has been elevated to the same league as the oil wars for screwing up the lives of people who have a right to live on this planet.  There can be no mistake.  The wrong wars are being inflicted on the wrong people.

No doubt the Afro-Colombians will have little to complain (and sue) about regarding oil company pollution of their once pristine environment if the U.S. contrived Colombian drug war can provide the tipping balance that drives these wonderful people out of their homeland and into the urban sweatshops of Bogota.


Sun, 04/20/2008 - 3:37pm Permalink
sicntired (not verified)

[email protected],Vancouver,B.C.Canada I've been a lot of things in my life and one of them was being a heroin addict.The hatred and rabid violence I was confronted with was considered :"just the way it is" at the time.I saw people chocked to death in a crowd and no-one made a move to intervene because that was just the way it was.A priest yelled at a cop that was trying to drag me through a window after throwing a large boulder through the windshield right in my face but when the cops ID'd themselves he said "OK"and left them to kick the shit out of me.Much worse things happened in private and more than one innocent civilian was threatened not to say anything.These were the supposed good guys.I'm told that street heroin has a really terrible taste now because of the policy of following shipments of bleaching agents around the world.We all remember paraquat.Only an insane government poisons it's own children in the name of the law.By restricting access to certain products the government is complicit in the use of some truly terrible chemicals and you can bet the black market will be shifting to China in an effort to avoid DEA scrutiny of shipments of precursor chemicals.We had a death recently of a woman who ordered drugs over the internet and was poisoned by heavy metals.I'm amazed there haven't been more deaths as the result of policies that force illegal manufacturers to turn to places like Asia for the needed chemicals.I guess with heavy metals it takes time for the damage to build to a fatal level.I could write for days just putting down things I've seen taken off the market just because they had a side use in drug production.If you ever travel to Vancouver make sure you have a cell phone and extra batteries cause the cops heard people were using pay phones to make drug deals.Answer.Remove all the pay phones.

Fri, 04/25/2008 - 1:35am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

I hate this country more and more with each passing day and, yes, I want to leave it but, please, someone please tell me where I can migrate to where the cancer of US imperialism and hate-driven drug policy has not spread and corrupted human decency, compassion, and common sense?

The Stars & Stripes is the flag of my enemy. I have no problem wiping the dirt of the bottom of my shoes upon it.

Fri, 04/25/2008 - 6:29pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

The recent Spanish constitution prohibits the prosecution of individuals who cultivate and consume marijuana in their own homes. But you'll have to find employment, or have a guaranteed income exceeding $60,000/year to gain permanent resident status.

Mon, 04/28/2008 - 11:04am Permalink

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