Submitted By: Mike Spindell, Guest Blogger
I’m going to use what has become a cliché to open up this piece. “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing that has failed over and over again.” Often clichés are expressions of reality that nevertheless express problems faced by generation generations and generations of human beings. In my opinion “The War on Drugs” is not only an abysmal failure, but has gone a long way towards destroying the social fabric of this country and corrupting the efforts of law enforcement, by manufacturing a “problem” that they are pressured to solve. The idea for writing this came to mind this week at my local drug store. My wife had sent me for a decongestant that contains pseudo-ephedrine to treat a persistent cold. These medications which were formerly as matter of course located in the Cold and flu section are by law now kept behind the prescription counter. To make my purchase I had to produce a driver’s license, whose number was duly entered into a computer and sign an affirmation form digitally. Now since I was a loyal viewer of “Breaking Bad” I understood why this was seen to be necessary by the government. Pseudo-Ephedrine is used in one common formula to “cook” Chrystal Methedrine, or “Speed”. The idea that I, a 69 year old greybeard, should be recorded as a potential cooker of “meth”, is so ludicrous that it caused me to think about the whole process of drug interdiction that is the result of the War on Drugs.
The reach of the War on Drugs goes far beyond the control of formerly non-controlled substances and has affected and limited the way Doctors prescribe for their patients. This prescription oversight ever expands the categories of controlled substances and puts every physician under undue government surveillance. To illustrate the silliness of this, from my own experience, let me relate that in 2010 I underwent 3 major, life-threatening operations within a 4 month period. After each operation which involved cutting my chest open (the middle one was a heart transplant) in the Surgical Intensive Care Unit I was being given unlimited dosages of morphine to deal with my pain. In each instance after an operation, after two days, I would refuse the morphine because it was affecting my thinking and the pain without it was tolerable. In each instance after practically having to forcefully deny the proffered morphine in the morning, my request for Xanax that evening to help me sleep was denied, even though my Surgeon had prescribed it. This required a late hour call to the Doctor on call to prescribe it. The nurse was only following procedure, but the scrupulousness of the procedure is the result of the War on Drugs. Physicians now treating people for various pain symptoms are now under very close scrutiny regarding the medications they prescribe. To me this is nonsensical, given that addicts always find ways to get their drugs no matter what strictures are put into place. What follows is my examination of the premises behind the War on Drugs, its affect on all of us and my solution to this “problem”.“War on Drugs” is a term commonly applied to a campaign of prohibition, military aid and military intervention, with the stated aim being to define and reduce the illegal drug trade. This initiative includes a set of drug policies that are intended to discourage the production, distribution, and consumption of what said governments and the UN define as illegal psychoactive drugs. The term was first used by United States president Richard Nixon, and was later popularized by the media. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War_on_Drugs
America’s actual war on drugs started much longer ago that Richard Nixon’s announcement in 1971. The roots in America of the war on drugs formally should be seen as December 23, 1973 with the formation of the WCTU (Women’s Christian Temperance Union).
“The purpose of the WCTU was to create a “sober and pure world” by abstinence, purity and evangelical Christianity. Annie Wittenmyer was its first president. Its second president, Frances Willard, a noted feminist, made the greatest leaps for the group. They were inspired by the Greek writer Xenophon, who defined temperance as “moderation in all things healthful; total abstinence from all things harmful.” In other words, should something be good, it should not be indulged in to excess; should something be bad for you, it should be avoided altogether—thus their attempts to rid their surroundings of what they saw (and still see) as the dangers of alcohol.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WCTU
Sadly, many of the reforms sought by the WCTU were actually of good purpose and were quite needed in American Society. They were for universal suffrage, reform of the labor laws, against the use of tobacco, for public health care and World peace. Unfortunately, their greatest lasting success was in the creation of Prohibition of all alcohol use. The perspective that the WCTU provided that has lasted far beyond prohibition was that the use of any substance to affect ones’ consciousness was amoral and sinful. They for instance lobbied the Catholic Church to renounce the use of wine in its services as being “against God’s wishes”. Their idea was that if “getting high” was evil and sinful, it was then the proper role of government to interdict the use of any substances that would alter consciousness. If you give it some thought this is the premise that seems to be operant today at all levels of government. It is this perspective that drives the War on Drugs. “Getting high” is per se wrong and it is government’s job to prevent people from “getting high.”
The Eighteenth Amendment to our Constitution introducing Prohibition in the U.S. took effect on January 17th, 1920. With Prohibition’s institution came an immediate ramp up of Agencies and funding for enforcing Prohibition. As we know the effort to ban alcohol was not only a complete failure, it resulted in the creation of a network of organized criminals throughout the country. One of the federal prohibition agents hired was one Harry J. Anslinger, who rose to high levels within the government and in 1930 was appointed Director of the U.S. Treasury Department’s Federal Bureau of Narcotics. With the election of FDR and the repeal of the 18th Amendment Anslinger found his role and power within the Treasury Department in a decline. Anslinger’s response was to find another substance to use as a “bugaboo” and developed a campaign to paint marijuana as a destructive substance that threatened the public with crazed addict raping and killing innocent citizens.
“Some of his critics allege that Anslinger and the campaign against marijuana had a hidden agenda, DuPont petrochemical interests and William Randolph Hearst together created the highly sensational anti-marijuana campaign to eliminate hemp as an industrial competitor. Indeed, Anslinger did not himself consider marijuana a serious threat to American society until in the fourth year of his tenure (1934), at which point an anti-marijuana campaign, aimed at alarming the public, became his primary focus as part of the government’s broader push to outlaw all recreational drugs” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harry_J._Anslinger
You will note the last sentence of the paragraph above “at which point the anti-marijuana campaign, aimed at alarming the public, became his primary focus as part of the government’s broader push to outlaw all recreational drugs.” This blog has had numerous bog posts documenting the excesses and the failures of the “War on Drugs”. In fact if you write “War on Drugs” in the blog search function you will be taken two five archived pages on the subject including many of my own. I don’t to intend to present a rehash of what I feel is a proven proposition, which is that the War on Drugs is a failure, has made a joke of our Constitution and has wasted literally trillion$ in an endeavor that we could argue actually contributes to what it purports to end.
What I want to propose instead is that not only do we end the War on Drugs, but that we decriminalize all substances used to get people high. To my mind humanity has at least found that “getting high” is a normal and pleasurable part of life for at least 10,000 years which is the timeframe put on the invention of beer. My guess, and that of many paleontologists, is that the use of mind altering substances may go back as much as 100,000 years in human history. Some even attribute the use of psychedelics to the creation of modern religion, which I find persuasive, but not dispositive. Why are we doing this? Why are we expending so much energy and money on outlawing something that our species has used throughout its history to not only make life more pleasant, to reduce pain and to help alleviate the suffering appended to the lives of many humans? Much of this disdain for what is essentially a human tendency can be attributed to religion and its need to control the lives of its believers. However, much of the impetus for this can also be attributed to people with power who want to further exert control over the people they have power over. To me this is madness and does meet the definition of insanity.
The question will then be asked what expertise I have in this field to be able to propose this change? It’s a fair question and the fair answer is that I am an expert in it. For 32 years I worked for the New York City Human Resources Administration. During my time there I worked in all of their sub-Agencies that dealt with drug addiction and drug addicts, including the pilot project of the DAB program which dealt with those disabled due to addiction. My last 20 years in that Agency were spent aqs a high level executive, who was recognized for his expertise regarding addiction and regarding psychological issue. This is because I am an Institute-Trained Psychotherapist, who has also attended numerous practicum’s and symposia dealing with addiction and its psychological effects. Then too, for 6 years after my retirement from HRA I created and ran 8 programs that specifically dealt with drug addiction including one that created “sober” living for 38 addicts that also had severe psychiatric disorders. Disability was the only reason that I retired and the programs I created still exist nine years after my full retirement from the field. So by most people’s definition I am an expert.
Now though I’ve also openly admitted on this blog that until 1981 I was a recreational drug user and had sampled most all of the drugs available until that time. However, the only substance I was ever addicted to was tobacco and beating that addiction was a long time struggle for me. One can say though, that in addition to experience and training, I have also had much experience with the field from the inside. The sum of all my experience and knowledge has led me inescapably to the conclusion that there is no reason for our Country to waste so much effort and to have degraded the freedom of our society, trying to ban something that is a very human predilection. One can also say that the banning actually encourages use, because by spreading myths about the more benign drugs like marijuana, the Drug Interdiction Industry loses credibility with possible users, who then don’t heed the real warnings regarding the truly destructive drugs such as Cocaine, Crack and Meth.
Some will attempt to rebut my argument by stating what will we do about those who are in the throes of addiction? We currently spend an estimated $100 million per year on the war on drugs. Only a small fraction of that goes for treatment of what is really a medical/psychological problem. We could easily increase the availability of good drug treatment for a small percentage of that $100 million to take care of those addicted. The unshared secret of the War on Drugs is that methadone gets people high and yet is encouraged as a treatment for heroin addiction. In fact the methadone programs are organized in such a way that if one is found to be using barbiturates for instance (used to increase the effect of the high) they increase the daily dosage of methadone. People on methadone have been historically able to lead stable lives and to even hold jobs. The same would be true of many heroin users, if heroin was decriminalized.
I am absolutely not suggesting that heroin, cocaine and meth are good for people. They are poison and no one should use them. However, people sniff glue and people get high on other really weird dangerous substances. A fool is born every minute. One must admit though that the interdiction and illegality of these substances increases their attractiveness to a certain group of people. In my opinion every addict, by addict I mean that someone who can’t go through an extended period of time without getting high, is suffering from a personality disorder of serious proportion. Instead of medically and psychologically treating the disorder, we are treating the symptom with criminalization. That too is madness to me. It is not the drug that is the evil, though certain drugs are deadly, it is what causes the person to seek out the drug. Anyone who has ever seen someone get high with heroin via a needle, has to wonder what in hell that person is thinking and what pain is that person feeling to want to do that? We shouldn’t be sending people with psychological programs to jail It is cruel and inhumane punishment and history has proven it doesn’t work.
Finally, when it comes to people using substances I am a full on libertarian in belief. The government has no business regulating whether or how people “get high.” History has proven that this regulation and interdiction not only doesn’t work, but it is counterproductive. Having known and treated many addicts in my life I have tremendous empathy and sympathy towards people in the struggle. My feeling is that in the end it is an individual and not a government matter, except in the sense of providing resources for those who find themselves lost in their addiction.
Submitted By: Mike Spindell, Guest Blogger.