How to Win the War on Drugs

Strategy is everything in a war.

“The War on Drugs failed not because we treated it as a law enforcement problem, but because we only treated it as a law enforcement problem.”

A war that needs viable strategies has been completely starved out with failed approaches in North America leaving millions of vulnerable people languishing in the streets and under the bridges in frequently abusive situations.

Meanwhile pragmatic solutions are working in places like Switzerland and they can work here, too.

What doesn’t work is putting the white flag of surrender up like we’re out of ideas. That has only emboldened the gangs and cartels. Meanwhile last year we saw 100,000 overdose deaths (a number doubling every decade).

Here in Seattle, we can certainly attest to the disaster of decriminalizing drug possession and use, while doing absolutely nothing else effective or at scale with the problem while vast sums of money are spent on theoretical solutions with no basis in reality. Building housing that costs $500k a pop is not helpful. A community approach that blends law enforcement, public health and prevention is.

In High Point, NC they offer help with housing and employment, but caught again you get locked up. Arresting drug users that commit crimes is essential at the misdemeanor and felony level and that becomes a great way to sell recovery. Jail can be a gateway to recovery if we want it to.

Once “arrested” think RECO-Suavé because when we make recovery an irresistibly awesome choice that someone in the free world will actually make, we’ll all be good.

Adopting and adapting the successful solutions from Switzerland (and perhaps other places winning the war) would make sense in Seattle and beyond.

In Portugal

Under the 2001 law, drug dealers still go to prison. But anyone caught with less than a 10-day supply of any drug—including marijuana and heroin—is typically sent to a local commission, consisting of a doctor, lawyer and social worker, where they learn about treatment and available medical services. And in Portugal, no distinction is made between “hard” or “soft” drugs, or whether consumption happens in private or public. What matters is whether the relationship to drugs is healthy or not.

Time Magazine 8-1-2018

In Switzerland

For 25 years, Switzerland has applied a ‘four pillars’ policy: prevention, therapy, harm reduction and repression (law enforcement). The model is highly regarded by addiction professionals and has proven effective. Since its adoption, the number of deaths resulting from drug consumption has decreased, criminality has declined, the health of addicts has vastly improved and open drug scenes have disappeared.

In addition to the public health response, we have to take the supply and the demand sides of this problem seriously.

Seize illegal drugs, drug money, and weapons and target distribution channels. Collaborate with Mexico and other points in every direction. Reprioritize enforcement of misdemeanor crimes. Nip everything in the bud. Offer rehabilitation and recovery pathways to addicts and criminals.

And prevent the next wave.

Youth who don’t use hard drugs by the end of middle-school are unlikely to ever use them. But with mega-potent strains of cannabis and wax extractions now being called the new Oxy, we have our work cut out for us. The youth danger zone starts by 10 and goes up to age 25. Earlier if older siblings drag the younger kids in.

For adults, trauma from youth or from divorce, loneliness and despair later in life can cause the addiction monster to rear its head at any time.

Parents, friends, schools, and pediatricians all make good lines of defense with prevention and early-intervention in mind to support families, children and communities from drug disasters.

In Seattle, I can certainly see the good sides and bad sides of cannabis legalization, but my early concerns that we did not have the youth in our minds turned out to be founded. So much to read now about cannabis use potentially interfering with healthy brain development of children which for boys continues until 25.

Still, if we attack the supply, curb the demand, and treat the public health crisis we’ll win. A funding formula that puts 2/3 of funding into prevention and treatment and one-third into enforcement would make sense over time. Let’s get on it.

(Credit to James Marson, Julie Wernau and David Luhnow for the content of their writings that have helped me understand this issue.)