Drug abuse requires global solutions
A range of measures are required to alleviate the problem in any meaningful fashion and it will take decades of concerted efforts to get results
sn’t it beyond time that the community of nations came together to combat one of the greatest evils impacting lives and families just as they did in Paris to minimise the negative effects of climate change on our planet? No nationality, race or social strata is immune. Most of us know at least one person who has succumbed to drugs, whether illegal or prescription, or a family that has been devastated by a drug-addicted loved-one.
Kudos to US President Donald Trump for declaring his country’s opioid crisis a three-month public health emergency, but although he displayed uncharacteristic passion during his briefing citing his late elder brother’s struggle with alcoholism, his strategies lacked meat on the bone. Most crucially, he failed to pledge massive additional funding, instead opting to rob Peter to pay Paul. In essence, no one nation can do it alone, even those who might be tempted to take a leaf out of the Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s book by binning human rights and the role of the judiciary to wage a street war on suspected drug dealers and users. Amid claims that more than 10,000 Filipinos have been gunned down, he has admitted that his war on methamphetamine cannot be won.
An explosive series aired on the History Channel, America’s War on Drugs, based on testimonies from former CIA and DEA officers as well as former drug dealers and journalists, focused on the failed efforts of previous US presidents to get a grip on the issue while shining a light on the CIA’s murky affiliations with drug cartels.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has revealed shocking statistics in its World Drug Report 2017. Approximately a quarter of a billion people worldwide use drugs and 29.5 million suffer from “drug use disorders”. The report states that in 2016 “global opium production” and “coca bush cultivation” showed a 30 per cent increase on the previous year with Afghanistan and Colombia the main producing nations.
Research published in The Lancet highlights the fact that “illicit drug use” accounts for 250,000 deaths annually and is more prevalent in developed countries such as the US where 27 per cent of drug overdose deaths occur. In 2015 America lost 52,400 of its citizens to this scourge as opposed to 13,286 million that same year caused by firearms.
Trump has never consumed alcohol or smoked a cigarette in his life, he says, and has never craved them. Thus he believes a major advertising campaign advising young people to say no to killer substances will have an impact. Ads can certainly play a part in coordination with a range of other measures but they are far from being the answer.
Firstly, producing countries should be persuaded with monetary aid or coerced by economic sanctions to ignite scorched earth policies to eradicate opium poppies and coca bushes from their soil, apart from those needed for medicines grown in strictly government-controlled areas.
Secondly people’s access to illegal drugs should be drastically cut. Border controls should be tightened. Countries should liaise to improve intelligence-gathering. Smugglers, drug dealers and sellers who ply their evil trade around children’s schools should expect to receive mandatory life sentences. They are nothing less than killers.
Addicts, however, should be treated with compassion in government-run rehabilitation clinics where some experts believe they should receive care for at least a year to ensure they are freed from their habit. Thereafter they should be assisted with accommodation and jobs. With respect to America’s problem, there should be a crackdown on doctors who overprescribe and the Federal Government should order states where the gateway drug marijuana has been legalised to shut down their profitable enterprises with the exception of medical marijuana. States that promote marijuana which elicits a temporary alternative reality are setting a terrible example. The first Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse Robert L. DuPont writes in the New York Times, “It should come as no surprise that the vast majority of heroin users have used marijuana (and many other drugs) not only long before they used heroin but while they are using heroin.” He maintains that “people who are addicted to marijuana are three times more likely to be addicted to heroin”.
Lastly, it is important to educate children to avoid any type of drugs; perhaps with visits to places where the drug-addicted homeless camp out amid squalor as well as to rehabilitation centres when they will be able to hear heartbreaking stories from recovering addicts firsthand. Parents who have lost children to drugs should be encouraged to speak of their pain in classrooms. Whichever methods are utilised, alleviating the drug problem in any meaningful fashion will take decades to bring results. Nevertheless, given that sales of tobacco are falling in many parts of the world year upon year and countries, including New Zealand, Ireland, Finland and Malaysia anticipate being smoke-free over the coming 20-30 years, there is hope.
Linda S. Heard is an award-winning British political columnist and guest television commentator with a focus on the Middle East.