War on drugs is a failure. That is a given. The question is why? That is not so clear.
“Global war on drugs a failure, high-level panel says”
Of course, the remaining question is can we fight a war on drugs and expect to win (at least reduction in drug use).
This commentary address the above questions in turn.
WHY WE FAIL IN WAR ON DRUGS?
Depending on whom you ask, there are many reasons why we fail in war on drugs.
For prohibitionist, it is because we are not punishing harsh enough. But China has zero tolerance for drugs, with capital punishment to match. China still has a drug epidemic on hand, and growing fast.
For liberals, it is because we are punishing too much. But drug rehabilitation program has proven not as successful as people claim, though it is certainly more effective than punishment.
The issue with fighting a successful drug war is much more complicated. Let me explain.
WHAT IS A DRUG WAR?
When we are launching a war on drugs, what are we fighting against? It is certainly not about fighting drug use per se. Drugs are any chemical that induce physical – psychological changes. Since we use drugs every day, from Red Bull to beer to coffee, we can hardly do without. In essence, we need to be more specific about our war objective.
The war on drugs is a war on harmful addiction of all kind, of which drug addiction is consider the most prevalent and harmful, to self, to others.
WAR ON ADDICTION
The American Society of Addiction Medicine has defined “Addiction” as:
“Addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations. This is reflected in the individual pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors. The addiction is characterized by impairment in behavioral control, craving, inability to consistently abstain, and diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships. Like other chronic diseases, addiction can involve cycles of relapse and remission. Without treatment or engagement in recovery activities, addiction is progressive and can result in disability or premature death.”
Fighting addiction (of drugs, alcohol, texting) is thus a fight against a personally rewarding “habits” – more generally a “high” experience.
If fighting “addiction” is fighting a “high” experience, we need to do one of the two things (or both):
(1) Reduce the “high” experience, at least link the “high” with the “low”. This cannot be achieved by punishment alone, as we have learned so far. The reason is a simple one. After habituated, getting “high” is not a logical process; it is an automatic response that deny rationality of choice. (That is why the Internet craze is so bad on our students. They cannot concentrate without checking their text every second. For executives, it is the e-mail.) The only hope we have is perhaps to link “high” with “low” experience sufficient to rid people of bad habits. Many people get out of alcohol because of the morning after hangover. With technology today, we can induce the same reaction when people drink or use drugs. (By making this proposal, I am not arguing for such drug reduction policy. There are other weighty issues involved, such as paternalism and privacy. However, I am offering up a workable solution, if society so chooses. )
(2) Substitute the “high” experience (with harmful consequences) with other equally “high” experience. (with little consequences). I once posed the question that few can give me an answer. If smoking (illegal) marihuana give people high and drinking (legal) beer get people high, why do people still the first, and not the second. Inherent in the question is this idea – fight illegal drugs with legal drugs. While I am not so sure that all drug users will shit to using alcohol as a substitute goods, overnight, but I am dead sure that with enough education people will use legal drugs instead of illegal one, at least in the margin. That way, we still have a drug problem, but it is of a lesser magnitude, by health effect (doubtful) or social costs (most certainly, reduce demand on illegal drugs, generate tax etc.)
(3) Sight people from physical “high” to mental (spiritual, psychological) “high”. This is by far the best and most effective way to get people from addiction. Empirically, people who are happy until themselves – mentally ‘high” – have no need for drugs. In our society (US) we do not educate people to understand the two kinds of high end/high grade “high” (e.g., spirituality, achievements) and low end/low grade high (e.g., sex, drugs, gambling). This possibly is the better way to do to get ride of destructive addictions of all kinds, from drugs to media attention.