Many of us are familiar with the statistic that America, with only 5% of the world's population, consumes nearly 25% of the world's resources. Here's a less known fact: With the same 5% of the population, the United States consumes 65% of the world's illegal drugs.
That's a lot of pot, cocaine, heroin, and other things the US government and most US citizens say they oppose. According to Mexico's president, Felipe Calderon, the United States is the “biggest drug addict in the world.” Calderon knows about the topic because his country is being ravaged by drug related violence among crime syndicates fighting to maintain their customer base north of the border. Earlier this month, in just a five-day period, hundreds of people were murdered in drug related incidents in Mexico.
Drugs and America is not a new story. The US launched its "war on drugs" circa 1970, under the direction of President Nixon. In 2010 it is clear that America is not just bogged down in Afghanistan and Iraq, it's struggling with a 40-year war at home.
There are ways to effectively combat the scourge of drugs, and the related billions of dollars of costs in lost worker productivity, health care, family breakdown, crime, suicide, abuse, and so on. Victory in any war depends upon maintaining the will to win. The question is: Do American's really want to stop the use of illegal drugs?
Research has shown that if kids are educated about the dangers of drug use and can avoid drugs until they're twenty-one, they are almost certain to avoid drug problems throughout their lives.
Yet, the US spends 2/3 of its budget to counter drug use on reactive programs including prosecution and incarceration, instead of prevention and education. That's the opposite of what works, according to experts. Something is amiss with this strategy.
We must also ask: Why does a population that consumes a despicably large percentage of all the world's stuff, need 2/3 of its drugs, too? Drugs are supposed to make life easier, more exciting, less painful, and more pleasurable—or so the drug dealers claim. But why does the wealthiest nation need to pump itself up with intoxicants anyway? Doesn't all that stuff Americans consume satisfy them? Is perhaps something missing in all those frenetic consumers' lives?
If you shop until you drop, but still need a little pill, puff, snort (or drink, for that matter) to get you through the day, then something is wrong with your formula for success. America needs to re-examine its war on drugs—and perhaps its consumption-driven raison d'etre as well—and figure out a realistic, long-term exit strategy.
Washington Post, June 16,
National Center on Addition and Substance Abuse, Columbia University www.casacolumbia.org