One of the things I have been asked on numerous occasions is “Are we winning the war on drugs?” Every time I get that question, I have to say that inside I cringe just a little bit. I am not sure who came up with the idea of the war on drugs, but I wish he or she never said it! Usually it is a sincere question coming from a concerned citizen who knows that if we are winning, it sure has been a long war!
However, sometimes the question is designed as a setup by someone who thinks legalizing drugs is the real answer and, by just taxing drugs, all will be well with the world, and the government will actually make money instead of throwing millions of dollars of resources at the problem. Taxing seems to be the answer to everything lately, especially when politicians have an insatiable appetite to spend other people’s money.
The truth of the matter, in my humble opinion, is that we are holding our own when it comes to reducing drug abuse and addiction. We are never going to eradicate substance abuse in this world, and no sensible person thinks eradication can happen. However, legalizing drugs will only allow the vast majority of law-abiding citizens, who do not use drugs partly because they are illegal, to be tempted to experiment.
The tactics needed are still the same as they were decades ago and are as follows:
- Law enforcement—This is still a much-needed part of the solution to controlling the abuse and addiction associated with drugs, both licit and illicit. We definitely cannot arrest our way out of this problem, but we can keep the threat of a criminal record a very real possibility if a person decides to abuse. Of course, continuing to keep much harsher penalties for those selling drugs makes perfect sense, as they are the ones polluting our population. Judges need to support harsh sentences on drug traffickers, with no early releases from prison.
- Education/prevention—The commonsense education of children and adults when it comes to drug abuse is another important part of the solution. One of the easy solutions with prescription drugs is to educate the patient, often an important key to reducing drug diversion. Requiring patients receiving controlled substances for the first time to watch a 5-minute video in their doctor’s office, followed by a short quiz, would be inexpensive and very worthwhile. Too many legitimate patients become unknowing enablers of Rx abuse by not securing their medications or even by sharing them with friends and family members as a “favor.”
- Rehabilitation—This is certainly another important part of permanent removal of drug abusers and addicts that may just save their lives as well. Part of the problem is that people addicted to opioids cannot be cured by a 30-day outpatient stint that almost always ends in relapse. Relapse, of course, is very common in the field of rehabilitation, but an in-house rehabilitation program for those with heavy addictions is an absolute must. The issue is primarily monetary. Health insurers know how expensive rehabilitation can be, and as mentioned before, relapse is commonplace.
Hundreds, if not thousands, of experts over the years have touted these 3 areas that need to be addressed, and yet we seemingly cannot get our “act” together. Heroin is currently the biggest killer of our youth and young adults; it has taken the #1 spot over prescription drugs, although there are still many unintentional overdose deaths involving pharmaceuticals. Just a few years back, cocaine and “crack” cocaine were deluging our population, and I am afraid the “bath salts” and other synthetics being produced are here to stay and are already having devastating effects on people across the globe.
My answer is that we persist at what we are doing and constantly try to improve on each of the points above. Legalizing drugs would be a disaster, in my opinion; the money saved on law enforcement and education would be sorely needed for the explosion of addicted individuals crowding into rehabilitation centers or, worse, morgues.