U.S. Drug Abuse: International Consequences Demand Change

By Bean, Ryan | Washington Report on the Hemisphere, July 14, 2014 | Go to article overview

U.S. Drug Abuse: International Consequences Demand Change


Bean, Ryan, Washington Report on the Hemisphere


An Incan legend once prophesied the future. The Sun god gave the Inca the coca plant as a gift to ease the pain brought on by the European conquest, but there was a catch. "When the white man wants to do the same and dares to use the leaves as you do, the reverse will happen. Its juice, which for you will be the force of life, for your masters will be a disgusting and degenerate vice: while for you, the Indians, it will be an almost spiritual nourishment, the effect on them will be idiocy and madness."

With the transformation of the coca leaf to cocaine, it appears that the prophecy has been fulfilled. The cocaine industry is now associated with violence and addiction, and earns illegal drug businesses an estimated $88 billion USD each year. Cocaine is commonly referred to as the champagne of recreational drugs today, but the drug was known in the late 1800s as the product that "revolutionized...western surgery." At that time, cocaine provided a foundation for entire surgical fields, and it was recommended by doctors for its effectiveness in delicate surgeries in the eyes, mouth, throat, and nose. Even before cocaine's creation in the 1800s, the coca leaf was widely used by the Inca for medicinal and spiritual purposes. The leaf itself, a stimulant, is a remedy for altitude sickness, an aid for digestion, and contains a number of important vitamins. The medical benefits of this plant and the drug derived from it are substantial, but when one country decided drug abuse was a vice instead of a medical condition, cocaine's reputation, along with other nowillegal drugs, shifted away from its medical renown and became a part of a new era of drug abuse.

The War on Drugs via Enforcement

President Richard Nixon first coined the term "War on Drugs" in 1971. His promise to eliminate all drugs was approved by U.S. citizens, who voted him into office the next year. It was from him that politicians learned that continuing to support a war against drugs could help them get elected. However, the long-term negative repercussions were not fully understood. In 2011, the U.S. War on Drugs reached its 40th anniversary. Despite the enormous costs and efforts of the U.S. government to eradicate the use and consequences of illegal drugs, the level of drug abuse has continued to escalate. In the past decade alone, the death rate from drug usage in the United States has doubled. However, the failed suppression of drug abuse in the United States represents only a fraction of its cost to humanity, and Latin America has suffered the most.

In a 2011 study, the Global Commission on Drug Policy concluded that the countries attempting to manage their drug problems with punishment realize the worst outcomes. Not only was this strategy deemed ineffective, but of all the studies examining the effect of increased law enforcement on drug market violence, 91 percent concluded that increased law enforcement actually increased drug market violence.

The logic behind these statistics is relatively straightforward. Essentially, violence is promoted during the process of the police arresting drug smugglers and seizing their drugs. …

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