The war on drugs has been a term in common use for several decades now having begun as an American campaign in the 1970s. This war includes special police agencies, the military, and legislation making drugs, drug use, and drug-dealing illegal. Billions and billions have been spent (some estimates suggest trillions). Tens of thousands have been imprisoned. But drug use has not really declined worldwide – a recent UN report says that 270m people used drugs in 2018, some 35% more than in 2008.

For clarity when we discuss “drugs” we refer to mainly illegal drugs such as heroin, cocaine, cannabis, methamphetamine, and others. We do not include alcohol and tobacco (both legal) here, although in many ways they could be included due to their clearly harmful effects. For more clarity we accept that drug-addiction is a problem that negatively impacts the addict and their family/friends (there is perhaps room for debate on a “softer” drug like cannabis but in general, drugs are not good, not good at all).

There are those who argue that this war has failed, at great economic and social cost both in consumer and producer counties. This argument also proposes a greater focus on drug use as an illness in need of treatment rather than as a crime in need of punishment. Some would argue for the legalisation of many or even all drugs and the move to legalise cannabis (the most widely used drug worldwide) in many places is an example of this. The basic idea is that legalising drugs removes the huge profit incentive for illegal dealers/gangs (it is the money that leads to the violence and gangsterism ultimately), improves tax revenues (legal drugs can be taxed), reduces law-enforcement costs, and perhaps most importantly, facilitates a greater focus on addict/patientcare.

We are not going to support one or other view, but the debate is certainly one to watch going forward: it seems likely that some new approaches are needed and will be seen, one way or another. What may be worth suggesting are some questions regarding our own lives:

  • Do you see drug use as an illness or a crime?
  • Do you judge, or support, addicts?
  • Do you encourage or at least allow open conversation about drugs in your home?
  • Do you think a family-member addict could or would approach you for help?
  • If your partner or a close family member is a drug addict would you help by encouraging treatment? Or judge them as criminals?
  • Do you or would you feel ashamed about a drug addict in your family? Would you look to cover it up or approach the issue more openly?

Drugs and drug-use have been with humanity for ever, or close. The issue and problem is growing, despite the “war on drugs” we have seen for over 50 years. It may be time for a new approach as regards legislation and more. That is a complex debate we suggest you watch carefully over the coming years. But there are also considerations for our own lives, our own families. Think on it…

Author: Dr Colin Burns, retired medical practitioner and wellness coach