I have been reading a lot of things about the drug gang violence in Mexico and along our border. I am also seeing the most unlikely people coming out against the “war on drugs,” such as police chiefs and, most recently, Tom Tancredo. I have been counseling people with addictions for over 26 years and have always been against this so-called war. What I have seen is our political leaders taking a medical and public health problem, turning it into a criminal problem, then a “war” based on ignorance and fear that was originally rooted in racism and prejudice against the mentally ill as much as anything, certainly not in science, medicine and logic. As a result, this country has squandered billions of dollars, caused unknown numbers of deaths and injuries, criminalized ordinary pleasure-seekers as well as sick (addicted) people, loaded up our jails and prisons with non-violent drug “offenders,” created whole new criminal classes (smugglers, dealers, "drug lords,"etc.) and led to corruption in the governments and police of many countries. And to what result? Today it is much easier for secondary school children to get their hands on drugs than it was when I was in junior high and high school (class of 1962), easier than for my son in the 80s!

We should have learned from Prohibition. What Prohibition of alcohol did was create a black market for something people wanted, thus creating artificially high prices, as black markets always do, spurring the creation of a whole new class of organized criminals that did not exist before, criminalizing ordinary citizens and causing corruption in our legal systems. Now it is Déjà vu all over again, but wider spread internationally and far, far more costly. This “war,” like Prohibition, treats drug use as a supply problem rather than a demand problem in a way that only increases the demand (e.g. with the profit motive and the lure of the forbidden). We are fighting the wrong “enemy” in the wrong way. Scare tactics and feel-good programs like the DARE Program are counter-productive. Research has shown that children exposed to the DARE program are slightly more likely to use drugs than those not exposed to it.

Who uses most of the drugs? Addicts do, as addicts drink most of the alcohol and smoke most of the cigarettes. I came of age in the early 60s when drugs other than alcohol were becoming widely available. I tried some of them and became addicted…to cigarettes and alcohol, the legal addictive drugs! I might have been better off getting addicted to the illegal ones, as most are less harmful to the human body than tobacco and alcohol. Yes, the two drugs that are most directly harmful to our bodies are the legal ones! The thing about addicts is that they will always find a way to get their drugs. I learned years ago that one of the easiest places to get drugs is inside a high-security prison, and the inmates make their own alcohol. Recently tobacco was banned in most prisons. Guess what? A whole new black market sprang up, complete with artificially high prices and corruption of guards!

What is addiction? Medicine and Psychology both see addiction as a medical and psychological disease. What the war on drugs does is punish people for being sick. Many years ago, then governor Wilson of California, formed a commission to study the cost-effectiveness of treating addiction versus not treating it. Their finding was that for every dollar spent on treatment, society saved three dollars in downstream costs of dealing with untreated addiction. To this day we have not done the obvious, make treatment universally available and affordable, decriminalize drugs, tax those in demand, as we do alcohol and tobacco and use the money to fund prevention and treatment. By declaring peace and doing the rational thing we will see the violence and corruption disappear, save billions of dollars and millions of wasted lives and, most likely, see the demand plummet. As a long-time addiction professional, a student of the research in that field, and someone who, with the right help, recovered from addiction, I am sure of this.

Author's Bio: 

I am a recovering alcoholic, sober since 1982. I started working as a peer counselor in a detox in March, 1983 and did so for 3 years. In 1986 I went back to school for a certificate in chemical dependency counseling. I started working professionally in the addiction field in 1987. I became an Internationally Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor (ICADC) and a member of the Board of Directors of the California Association of Alcohol and Drug Counselors. I went on in my schooling and attained a Master's Degree in Counseling Psychology with a specialty in Marriage, Family and Child Counseling in 1992. I have worked in many treatment venues over the years, both inpatient and outpatient. I moved to Colorado in 1997 and have continued to work in outpatient treatment and a private counseling/psychotherapy practice since. I am currently a Licensed Professional Counselor.