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

Gulf News - - Opinion - Spe­cial to Gulf News

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.

Ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paign

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.

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