The War on Drugs
Solution or Problem?
May 29, 2001
This is the third in a three part series that will examine the failed War on Drugs. In the first installment of this series, we examined and debunked the excuses for continuing this failed initiative, put forth by those who derive benefit from the continued failure of the War on Drugs. In the second segment, we looked at who these callous people are who spread this propaganda and examined their sinister motivation and shrewd tactics. In this final installment, we will present a proven workable alternative to the failed War on Drugs and show how some variation of controlled legalization of all drugs would solve the vast majority of the problems that today surround the distribution and use of currently illegal drugs.
Part 3 -
Proven Success - Not Excuses
In 1983, President Reagan declared the War on Drugs. I should mention that, at the time, I fully supported that initiative. But since then, that war has extracted larger and larger pieces of our federal, state and local budgets, without any measurable success. Let me emphasize that last phrase - "without any measurable success".
Source: US Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics
Source: Justice Policy Institute analysis of US Department of Justice Data. 1999, 2000 and 2001 are Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates of what could be the year end totals.
Since then, that war has almost single-handedly eroded our Constitutional Rights into oblivion.
Since then, younger and younger children are being enticed into the drug culture.
Since then, HIV and hepatitis infection through dirty needles is up.
Since then drug arrests are up sharply.
Since then, drug deaths are up.
Since then, drug related murders are up sharply.
Since then, tens of millions of citizens have had their right to vote systematically revoked for non-violent convictions on possession of as little as one joint of marijuana.
Since then, our prison population has reached a world record level.
Since then... Well, the whole list of failures is far too long to go into here. Yet, throughout it's sordid history, the War on Drugs has seen absolutely NO SUCCESSES of any note, to date.
OK. I admit that there are those who would disagree with that last statement. Actually, I'm sure that many in government would consider that some of those statistics do represent success. After all, creating millions of felons out of otherwise law-abiding citizens, reduces the number of eligible voters that a politician has to please in order to get re-elected. Remember that a citizen loses his right to vote upon any felony conviction, even a non-violent act like possession of a marijuana joint or an unlicensed firearm, that only carries a probation sentence.
Since most politicians in both major parties now seem to view their constituents as little more than speed bumps in their rush towards an ever larger and more intrusive government, it's easy to understand why they would view the disenfranchisement of millions of voters as a plus.
But, I just don't think that their definition of the word "success" would fly with the American public. I suppose that's why, when politicians try to convince us that the failed War on Drugs is really succeeding, they never say what those successes are supposed to be. But, I could be wrong. After all, Bill Clinton got the media to buy his definition of sex, didn't he?
We must remember that success is measured by goals achieved. As pointed out in Part 2 of this article, the goal of the US government, in the War on Drugs, is NOT to reduce drug dependency or to reduce drug related crime, but rather to serve as an excuse for further erosion of our Constitutional Rights by our government. So, although by public standards, the War on Drugs has been a complete and utter failure, by US government standards, the War on Drugs has been a phenomenal success, achieving exactly what they want it to achieve - providing an excuse for repeated and increasing violations of our Constitutional Rights by those in power.
It's time that all involved admit that by any reasonable standards, the War on Drugs has been an abysmal failure. No more excuses. No more time. No more throwing good money after bad. It's time to cut our losses, admit that the failed War on Drugs was a disastrous mistake and move on. It's time that we try something different.
So we don't end up making the same kind of mistakes next time around, we must begin by defining what constitutes SUCCESS. Since success is measured by GOALS achieved, we should establish a set of "reasonable" goals, before we go any further, and then measure the War on Drugs and any other prospective solutions against that standard. Since the best interest of society in general is more consistent with the goal of reducing drug abuse and drug related crime, than with furthering the ambitions of power-intoxicated government officials, we should set our goals to favor the people, rather than government autocrats.
So, for the sake of discussion, let's focus on the following major goals:
- To reduce the number of users/addicts.
- To reduce drug related deaths.
- To reduce drug related crime.
- To reduce criminal convictions.
- To reduce the availability of drugs to minors.
- To improve the health of remaining users/addicts.
- To improve the social integration of remaining users/addicts.
- To reduce the reliance of remaining users/addicts upon welfare.
- To reduce the presence of organized crime.
In his excellent book, "Why Our Drug Laws Have Failed and What We Can Do About It", conservative Orange County, California Superior Court Judge James P. Gray makes the point that neither extreme is likely to work. The two extremes are, of course, zero tolerance and total acceptance. Judge Gray points out that zero tolerance got us into this mess and few, if any, believe that total acceptance would help matters. So, the logical conclusion is that the answer must lie somewhere in between.
There are two ways that we can go about finding that answer. We can either use trial and error, or we can examine the policies of other countries that have achieved at least some measure of success and try to capitalize on that success.
I should point out that the War on Drugs has completely failed to achieve even one of the above goals. In fact, the War on Drugs has actually exacerbated most of those situations. Therefore, if we find a country that has achieved just one of those goals, we will have found a better solution than the failed War on Drugs.
The Hard Work Is Done
It just so happens that there is a developed western nation whose drug abuse reduction plan has achieved a marked measure of success in ALL of the above goals.
For some years now, Switzerland has been wrestling with how best to deal with the drug issue. But, unlike the United States government, when it became obvious to the Swiss government that a plan wasn't working, they either changed it or scrapped it, in favor of another plan. As a result, what the Swiss have in place today, has achieved ALL of the above goals. Their program has become a model for all governments that are truly concerned about drug abuse and the issues surrounding it, rather than simply being a tool for increasing their own power.
Now don't interpret this to mean that I think that the Swiss Plan is the perfect plan for every country. In fact, each country has it's own special problems. But, the fact that the Swiss have achieved positive results in each and every one of the goals that we set, of which the failed War on Drugs has yet to achieve even ONE, proves beyond any doubt, that there is no excuse for continuing the failed War on Drugs in this country. Furthermore, the proven successes of the Swiss system, described below, provides a solid foundation on which to build a truly productive drug abuse prevention program in the United States.
The Swiss Plan
For most of the 1990's, Switzerland experimented with various possible solutions to the drug problem. Like any experimental program, they have experienced both successes and failures. In fact, as might be expected of such revolutionary work, they had some great failures (Needle Park comes to mind). But to their credit, they didn't keep trying to push a program after it became obvious that it was a failure and they didn't take their ball and go home the first time things didn't go their way. They stayed the course and today, have a successful drug abuse reduction and rehabilitation program that is a model on which the world can build.
The Swiss program attacks the problem of drug abuse from four directions - Law Enforcement, Prevention, Therapy and Harm Reduction. The one notable difference between the Swiss program and the failed US War on Drugs, besides the fact that the Swiss program has succeeded, to some degree, on all fronts and the War on Drugs has failed miserably, is that the failed War on Drugs concentrates strictly on enforcement, highlighted by a Zero Tolerance policy, and generally does little more than give lip service to any other methods, regardless of how much success they have demonstrated.
This, of course, is consistent with the respective goals of each country's government. The Swiss government obviously wants to help their citizens. The US government, just as obviously, wants to increase their power over their citizens. And that, in a nutshell, is why the Swiss drug abuse prevention program has achieved much more true success than has the failed US War on Drugs.
In 1994, the Swiss government instituted a novel new experimental program to fight drug abuse, while at the same time, beefing up enforcement aimed at drug dealers, not users. The new program was initially supposed to only be a three year trial program, limited to only a few restricted areas. But, after only 7 months, the Social Welfare Department in Zurich held a press conference to announce preliminary results. Although, only preliminary, the results were astounding.
Several very positive effects had come from the program. Most notably, both the number of offenders and the number of criminal offenses decreased by about 60% during the first six months of treatment and illicit heroin and cocaine use rapidly and markedly regressed.
In fact, it turns our that the program had been so overwhelmingly successful that when the Swiss government received this news, it was decided, with broad support from all three political parties, that the program should be expanded nationwide. It eventually was expanded to include operations in 15 cities across Switzerland (including one penal institution).
A Novel Approach
What makes this program so novel, is that the government of Switzerland sells pharmaceutical quality heroin to addicts, in a controlled environment. In each of the various cities where the program, known as the Medical Prescription of Narcotics Programme (PROVE), was instituted, it differed slightly. Some offered methadone, as an option, while others did not. Some allowed users to vary their dose each day, while others did not. One was even in a penal institution. But, they all had to comply with certain requirements.
The strict admission criteria required participants to be at least 20 years of age, have a history of heroin dependency going back at least 2 years and participation in other treatments had to have failed on several occasions. An indication of the adverse affects of drug use on health and/or social relations also had to be present. In other words, we're talking hard-core adult drug addicts here, not casual users.
The injections of prescribed narcotics had to be given under supervision and injectible narcotics could not be taken home. The treatment had to involve the provision of psychosocial care as well as the prescription of narcotics. For this, the addicts paid CHF 15 (Swiss Francs) per day or approximately US $8.50 per day (Interbank exchange rate 6/28/01). And, oh yes - they had to stay out of trouble.
The Swiss Federal Office of Public Health issued a Report on July 10, 1997, which included the results of the Medical Prescription of Narcotics Programme. One of the most significant conclusions of this report was, "The economic benefit of heroin-assisted treatment is considerable, particularly due to the reduction in the costs of criminal procedures and imprisonment and in terms of disease treatment."
Let's look at just what the Swiss PROVE Programme has achieved:
- Both the number of offenders and the number of criminal offenses decreased by about 60% during the first six months of treatment.
- Most Illicit drug use, including that of cocaine, rapidly and markedly declined, whereas benzodiazepine use decreased only slowly and alcohol and cannabis consumption hardly declined at all.
- Those with permanent employment more than doubled (from 14% to 32%).
- The number of participants unemployed fell by more than half (from 44% to 20%).
- Debts during the treatment period were constantly and substantially reduced.
- Income from illegal and semi-legal activities decreased dramatically (10% as opposed to 69% originally).
- Participants' housing situation rapidly improved (in particular, there were no longer any homeless).
- Physical health improved during treatment (in physical terms, this relates especially to general and nutritional status and injection-related skin diseases.)
- More than half of the program drop outs switched to another form of treatment, including abstinence.
- Court convictions decreased significantly (according to the central criminal register.)
- One third of patients who, on admission were dependent on welfare, required no further support. On the other hand, others who were dependent on illicit income turned to welfare support.
- Retention rate in the study, 89% over a period of 6 months and 69% over a period of 18 months, proved to be above average when compared with other treatment programs for heroin dependents.
- By the end of 1996, a total of 83 people had decided to give up heroin and switch to abstinence therapy. The probability of this switch to abstinence therapy grows as the duration of individual treatment increases.
- No disturbance of note was caused to the local neighborhoods, or if so only temporarily.
Facts Trump Propaganda
These are FACTS. They are so indisputable, that those who derive benefit from the continued failure of the failed War on Drugs always go out of their way to avoid addressing these facts. Instead, they always resort to attacking the methodology and never attempt to present any contradictory facts of their own.
And, let's not forget their famous last resort excuse, "We're sending the wrong message to our children", which we thoroughly debunked in Part 1 of this series. You know that they have no more excuses, when they throw that one up at us. Watch the detractors of the Swiss success and you will see that they never address the above facts, but only present diversionary trivialities and feel-good excuses that neither address nor change the facts surrounding the success of the Swiss Medical Prescription of Narcotics Programme.
In fact, they have no explanation at all for why there was a substantial decrease in crime, reported by police, in the areas surrounding the clinics, shortly after each clinic opened and remain low today or why street dealers are now almost extinct in those areas. They won't address the dramatic drop in unemployment among program participants. When asked to explain why the Swiss people, who are considered to be one of the most informed electorates in the world, voted 71% in favor of keeping the PROVE Programme, in a 1997 referendum, they answer six other questions. Instead of addressing the facts, those who derive benefit from the continued failure of the War on Drugs, take a page from the liberal play book and try to divert the focus to unimportant semantics.
After all, the last thing that they want the public to do is compare the successful Swiss drug abuse prevention program (or any such successful program) with the failed War on Drugs. The reason is simple. A comparison of the two will not leave people questioning the Swiss program, but rather, questioning the sanity of those who still support the failed War on Drugs.
Comparing The Records
So, let's take a look at what it is that our government and others who derive benefit from the continued failure of the War on Drugs don't want us to learn about. Let's see just how the successful Swiss program compares with the failed US War on Drugs.
Swiss Program †
War on Drugs *
|To reduce the number of users/addicts.||
|To reduce drug related deaths.||
|To reduce drug related crime.||
|To reduce criminal convictions.||
|To reduce the availability of drugs to minors.||
|To improve the health of remaining users/addicts.||
|To improve the social integration of remaining users/addicts.||
|To reduce the reliance of remaining users/addicts upon welfare.||
|To reduce the presence of organized crime.||
The Swiss Data was derived primarily from the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health Report in July 1997, but includes information from other more recent news reports, as well.
The War on Drugs failure data was derived from a variety of widely available public sources, including the Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics, Centers For Disease Control National Center for Health Statistics, the FBI Uniform Crime Reports and other government data sources and news items.
More recent reports show that the total number of dealers in Switzerland is on the decline, thus reducing the availability of illicit drugs to everyone, including minors.
It's Time To Cut Our Losses
Even if you believe, as do I, that the Swiss system is not perfect, its successes, when compared to the dismal failure of the War on Drugs should leave no doubt that there has to be a better way than continued support of a failed War on Drugs. We can no longer afford to sacrifice our children, our schools, our neighborhoods and our inner cities to the drug dealers, just so a few callous politicians can become a little more powerful and the media can make a little more money reporting on the continuing failures of the War on Drugs.
We must face the fact that today, there is no perfect drug abuse prevention program. Even the Swiss program can be improved upon. But, one point has become abundantly clear. It would be hard to do any worse than the zero tolerance of the failed War on Drugs.
As we saw in the second installment of this article, the failed War on Drugs has become nothing but an excuse for further violations of our Constitutional Rights by those who were elected to protect those rights. It's now quite clear that there is no excuse for its continuation. It's time to cut our losses and call upon our elected representatives to bring an end to the failed War on Drugs and replace it with some variation of a program that has already been proven in other countries.
Building On Success
I used the Swiss program as an example, since they have achieved such great success. But, the key factor to remember is that any initiative that builds upon the success of others has to be better than what we have today. We can use the successes of countries like Switzerland to avoid many of the mistakes that they have made along their road to success.
On the other hand, the only success that the failed War on Drugs can claim is that it was designed to fail and in that respect, it has succeeded marvelously. It's time that we end the failed War on Drugs, and begin implementing a drug abuse prevention program, built upon proven techniques, that is designed to succeed.
I cannot urge you strongly enough, to contact your elected officials at both national and state levels today and tell them that the time has come to end the budgetary waste and the governmental abuses wrought upon the law-abiding citizens of this country, in the name of a failed War on Drugs. Call radio talk shows and write letters to the editor. But, don't just apply political pressure once and forget about it. Keep up the pressure. The battle to end the failed War on Drugs and replace it with a workable program is a battle that we can win.
Before concluding, I would like to ask you this rhetorical question:
If you were going to start a business, would you pattern it after a company that had experienced 68 consecutive quarterly losses (17 years) and that only remains in business because the owners keep pouring tens of billions of dollars in cash into it every year, or would you pattern your new business after a successful company?
Think about it...
To achieve success, you BUILD ON SUCCESS.
Continuing the War on Drugs is only BUILDING ON FAILURE.
Copyright 2001 John Gaver
All rights reserved.
Sign the Resolution for a Federal Commission on Drug Policy
Note: This resolution does not ask anyone to support any particular plan for solving the drug problem, and makes no mention of legalization. It only asks for an open and honest review of the nation's drug policy by our government - something that they have thus far resisted. They just don't want to confuse people with the facts.
Swiss Medical Prescription of Narcotics Programme (PROVE) Reports
Check out these excellent sources of information and commentary on this subject:
Drug War Facts - Just the Facts, but well sourced
America Locks Up 2 Millionth Inmate - It's a World Record!!!
Adolescent Drug Use and Drug Control Efforts
The War on Drugs Clock - It's ticking a shameful total
Recommendations of New Mexico Governor’s Drug Policy Advisory Group
The Effective National Drug Control Strategy 1999
Justice Policy Institute
Forfeiture Endangers American Rights (FEAR)
National Center for Health Statistics - recommended only for experienced researchers
Bureau of Justice Statistics Report on Prison Population