A War without Victory or End

By Melor Sturua

The end of the war and victory will become possible only when the U.S. ceases to be the world’s top drug consumer.

In my “American” lifetime, the White House has seen 10 presidents come and go; Obama is the 11th. And all 10 declared “wars” against drug abuse and drug trafficking. The word “war” was never used as a colorful metaphor. The war was waged in earnest. In this war, people were shot and killed.

In July 1973, U.S. President Richard Nixon issued a decree that gave the metaphor legal meaning. He announced the establishment of a new administration on drugs, the Drug Enforcement Administration, that was put in charge of “an overarching global war against the drug menace.” At the time the DEA was created, it employed 1,470 special agents and had a budget of $75 million.

Today, there are 5,200 special agents in the ranks of the DEA, and its annual budget has increased to $2.6 billion. But that is not all. In 2010, the U.S. federal government spent over $15 billion in the war on drugs. At the same time, local governments spent $25 billion to fight the same war. The numbers are absolutely fantastic, especially for Russia. And just as incredible, in relative terms, is the 2010 budget of the Russian Ministry of Defense, which totaled 1.5 trillion rubles. Do the numbers.

Yet despite such an impressive budget and the growth in the number of DEA special agents, there is no end in sight to the war on drugs, nor is there any victory at the end of the tunnel to been seen. According to Gallup, 35 percent of Americans believe that the drug problem is very serious in the U.S., while 26 percent say it is serious.

It is understandable. According to information provided by a recent national survey on drug use in 2009, 21.8 million Americans aged 12 and above are drug users, or 8.7 percent of the country’s population. During the same year, 1,663,582 people were arrested for drug-related offenses.

The statistics on drug abuse and trafficking rise steadily. And so, “just” 19.9 million Americans aged 12 used drugs in 2007, which is 8 percent of the country’s population in this age group. At the moment, the most widely used drug is marijuana, with 14.4 million users, or 5.8 percent of the population. Next in popularity is cocaine, with 2.1 million users, or 0.8 percent.

One million Americans “experiment” with hallucinogens, or 0.4 percent of the population, with 503,000 using the drug called Ecstasy. Finally, 6.9 million people, or 2.8 percent, abuse “prescribed” drugs, primarily psychotherapeutic drugs.

Thus, methamphetamines are used by 529,000 Americans, or 0.2 percent of the population, in equine doses. Nearly 8,000 Americans are using drugs for the first time, illegally of course. More than 7.6 million Americans are registered as drug addicts. Drug addiction leads to the rise in the number of criminal offenses committed, car accidents and AIDS infections. As a result, the material and financial losses are astronomic.

The growth dynamics in the number of addicts between 1998 and 2007 is as follows: Drug use has risen from 6.2 to 8 percent, with peak growth occurring in 2002, at 11.6 percent. It should be borne in mind that for the years between 1998 and 2007, while drug use jumped by 46 percent, the U.S. population increased by only 13 percent.

Thus, the U.S. is losing its war on drugs. And Washington, as we know, does not like losing any war. During the Obama administration, [Richard Gil] Kerlikowske, head of of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, or ONDCP, announced in May 2009 that the term “war on drugs” was no longer to be used.

From now on, he said, the emphasis would be placed not on law enforcement, but on the activities of national health services. The ONDCP outlined seven specific objectives for its activities, from reducing drug abuse among young people to reducing drug-related deaths.

Therefore, the focus of the battle was shifted toward minimizing drug abuse and its consequences. Accordingly, the arrest and imprisonment of drug addicts has shifted to allow treatment to be in the forefront. The targets of this strategy are children and adolescents aged 12 to 17. Currently, 10 percent of adolescents in this age group are the “current” drug addicts, the term “current” meaning that they have used drugs in the past 30 days. Of those, 19.9 percent of eighth graders use these or other type of drugs. The number of drug addicts among those aged 18 to 25 totals 10 percent, of which 15 percent are chronic cases.

The goals set by the Obama administration in this campaign (not “war”) against drugs appear to be rather modest. In five years, the number of addicts among young people is expected to be reduced by 15 percent. The same threshold was set for chronic drug users, as well as drug-related deaths and car accidents.

The main emphasis in this “15 percent” program was placed on family and what the Americans call “community,” a neighborhood, home, street, district and parish. Unfortunately, in Russia this kind of “community” is almost gone. Even neighbours living on the same floor no longer know each other. Particular attention is paid to preventive measures. Scientific studies show that if a person has not “experimented” with drugs by the age of 21, he or she is unlikely to resort to using them later in life.

The result is a national system of prevention, with an emphasis on the young — information activities aimed at young people, their parents and “communities.” The mass media has an even greater role to play; schools and people at their work places, civic and religious organizations as well as tribes (for Native Americans) are all enlisted.

The program aims not only at early prevention, but early and systematic addiction treatment, not just treatment in emergency situations. The campaign sets goals to reduce the number of drug prescriptions written, to improve rehabilitation systems, to fund research and production of anti-narcotic medications, to “break the chain” linking drug addiction and crime and to create alternatives to incarceration and other forms of criminal punishment.

These are the simple truths, but it does not make their implementation any easier. It rests on three pillars: sequence, public support and high level of financing. While abandoning the “war” metaphor at home, the U.S. continues its real war against drug trafficking in Latin America (primarily in Mexico and Colombia) and Asia (Afghanistan and Pakistan). And in fighting this war, there is no end or victory in sight. The end of the war and victory will become possible only when the U.S. ceases to be the world’s top drug consumer.

Izvestiya, Russia

Translated By Natalia Dresner

20 April 2011

Edited by Alexan­der Anderson
Russia – Izvestiya – Original Article (Russian)

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