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Win the drug war?

Posted Oct 14 2008 5:00am
Margret Kopala argues that the war on drugs is working. She points to a recent U.N. report, alcohol prohibition in the U.S., and Sweden's drug policy.

No doubt prohibition reduces drug use. The important question is, at what cost? We decided that the costs of alcohol prohibition were greater than our commitment to it could sustain.

The cost for the current drug war in the U.S. is high. I'm not an advocate of legalization, but any sensible person has to ask questions like:
  • How can we mitigate the human costs associated with the war on drugs?
  • What are we not doing, because we're investing enormous capital and energy in the war on drugs?
  • Are there other strategies that might be effective in trying to achieve our goals?
  • Are our goals realistic?
Further, Ms. Kopala resorts to characterizing supporters of harm reduction as part of a medical industrial complex. This suggests that HR advocates operate from bad motives. I disagree with many of them vigorously on many issues, but in most cases, their motives are good. (Just as advocates of recovery oriented systems of care are not zealots, pleasure police or motivated by moral panic.) However, their motives are rooted in an ideology that harms addicts in some ways (By lowering expectations and nurturing pessimism about prospects of recovery.) and has benefited addicts in other ways (Challenging the rest of us to work with active addicts, pay more attention to preventing illness and lower thresholds to receiving help.).

She's be more persuasive if didn't ascribe bad motives to those on the other side of the argument. Also, I get the impression that Sweden's policy has been successful. What are the challenges in replicating this policy elsewhere? What are the initial steps? Rather than tossing it off as a defense of the drug war status quo, how do we get there?
UPDATE: A reader appropriately took me to task for overlooking this
Nils Bejerot ... challenged the view ... that addiction was a health problem. ... Bejerot's argument that addiction was a learned behaviour made possible by the availability of drugs, time, money, user role models and a permissive ideology. This behaviour could be "unlearned," he said ...
She's right. It's absurd. Ideology is a problem on both sides of the street. It'll be nice when we manage to beyond this false dichotomy.
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