skip to content

Our Media



Are We Fighting a War on Drugs?

November 18, 2016

By Executive Director Steve Casey

Recently, I read an article that appeared in the Wall Street Journal in which some prominent researchers posed an important question, “Have We Lost the War on Drugs?” The answer to this question may surprise you, because we have never been in engaged in a real war on drugs.   

I say, we are not fighting a war in the true sense, because wars are finite, they start and at some point, they end. But, the drug trade has been around for thousands of years and will probably always exist. In fact, some very real wars were fought to protect the drug trade. In 1839 and again in 1865, the British waged war on the Chinese over the opium trade, but even after the Opium Wars ended the drug trade was still intact. What we have been doing for the past 75 years in the United States is combating the international drug trade in a courageous effort to disrupt, suppress and control the negative consequences the trade has on society, and in that regard we have been very successful in terms of lives saved and communities restored.  

But, in the article, the authors contend we have lost the war, because after decades we are still dealing with the negative consequences that every society must struggle with when it wages a full-scale battle to protect itself from the plague of drug abuse and addiction, including loss of human potential, loss of revenue, loss of quality of life, loss of economic potential and so on. At one point in the article, the authors suggest the best course of action would be to simply give up and adopt a market forces solution, and they even site the current trend toward decriminalization of marijuana in our country as a positive step.

“Decriminalization of all drugs by the U.S. would be a major positive step away from the war on drugs. In recent years, states have begun to decriminalize marijuana, one of the least addictive and less damaging drugs. Marijuana is now decriminalized in some form in about 20 states, and it is de facto decriminalized in some others as well. If decriminalization of marijuana proves successful, the next step would be to decriminalize other drugs, perhaps starting with amphetamines. Gradually, this might lead to the full decriminalization of all drugs.”

Of course, I think this is very bad advice for our nation’s policymakers. A nation’s fight against drug abuse and addiction is analogous to an individual’s fight against a serious disease. As patients, we want and need our doctors to diagnose our condition and then prescribe an effective (not necessarily the most cost efficient) treatment regimen that will help us maintain the best quality of life possible under the circumstances. We know we can’t wish our problems away and we should not take a wait and see approach if we want the condition to improve. The prescription of legalizing all drugs, because enforcement of our laws is time consuming and expensive, is not a viable or practical solution for our nation.

I do agree more can and should be done to address the drug epidemic in the areas of education, prevention, treatment and long term counseling. Treatment based drug courts are certainly a step in the right direction to address the depth and severity of addiction.

So, when you hear someone say, “We have lost the war on drugs and should legalize marijuana for recreational use,” you should ask them a few questions.  You should ask them if they feel that ALL drugs, such as methamphetamines, barbiturates, heroin, cocaine, crystal meth and PINK should be legalized as well? Or are they only talking about marijuana? If they say, “marijuana only,” then they are acknowledging that we must continue our effort to combat the sale and use of the other illicit drugs. If they say ALL drugs, you must ask yourself if you want to live in that kind of a world. A world where the drug cartels are legitimate; a world where children can openly purchase drugs whenever and wherever they want; a world where you, as a taxpayer, will pick up the tab for the increasing cost of the destruction that drug abuse and addiction causes in society.   

Most of the people I know, regardless of political party, don’t want to live in such a world and understand we have a duty to protect our children and others against the scourge of dangerous, mind altering, and addictive drugs. Most of the people I know understand every time a drug trafficker is arrested and their drugs are seized and destroyed, our nation’s chance of a better tomorrow is increased. Most of the people I know are smart enough to know when they are being given bad advice and some things, like our nation’s future, are worth fighting for regardless of the cost.

Sheriffs, as the county’s chief law enforcement officers, have long realized the destruction drug abuse causes in their communities. They see it in terms of lives and families destroyed and how it weakens the community in general. That’s why, for the past 75 years, they have led the charge to turn back the tide against the drug trade and will never abandon you, your family or the fight.   

The battle against illegal drugs, just like disease, may never be over, but we are winning and will continue to succeed if we are willing to fight to save the next generation from the scourge of drug abuse and addiction. I want to thank all those who have waged the fight thus far and have not given up, and those who are committed to continuing to fight the good fight.