We’re losing the war on drugs. It’s a symptom of worse ills.

Summary: See the casualties in the drug crisis, a growing toll despite the five decade-long war on drugs. It is the result, in part, of the fragmentation of American society, with increasing numbers of alienated people without friends or family. They are illnesses of America that we prefer not to see, let alone treat.

“I have no mouth. And I must scream.”
— Title of Harlan Ellison’s Hugo-winning short story (1967). In this collection.

We’re losing, big.

War on drugs

Nixon began a new era in US history 49 years ago with his Special Message to the Congress on Control of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs on 14 July 1969. He proclaimed the themes that have consumed so much money, diminished our Constitutional rights, and wrecked so many lives. Nixon officially declared the war on drugs on 17 June 1971.

Today we are losing, more than ever, as shown in the dozen graphs by the National Institute of Health’s (NIH) National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), August 2018. They tell a story at least some of which you know. They tell the what, but not why. Our law enforcement try to stop the flow of drugs, but do not ask why the surge in usage. Our public health and medical experts try to cure the addicts, but seldom ask why so many are using drugs.

These graphs show the symptoms of a spiritual sickness afflicting America. We cannot solve this problem until we ask the right questions. It is growing worse, as this shows …

Total US drug deaths
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), August 2018.

Another perspective on the casualties, shown by sex.

Total US drug deaths - by sex

What are they using?

Total US drug deaths - cocaine

Total US drug deaths - heroin

Total US drug deaths - other synthetic opioids

How are the kids doing?

The NIDA shows that this is the bright spot in an otherwise bleak picture.

Binge Drinking by kids

Vicodin use by kids

The NIH worries about marijuana use. I am astonished it is so low.

Use of most drugs by young adults has declined for most drugs, and by a lot for some. Here is what is being used.

Misuse of illegal drugs by kids

Misuse of legal drugs by kids

Update: info by age and race

See Dalrock’s post from 2015 with graphs from the Centers for Disease Control.

Who gets treated? Who does not, and why?

Comorbidity: who is affected

Comorbidity: who gets treatment

Comorbidity-why no care

The government’s response to the drug problem

First, with a big police response – as usual. The response of the health care community is equally futile. HHS is doing what they can, but few epidemics have been defeated by treatment. Either they run until they burn themselves out, or they are defeated by preventive measures. That means public health measures (e.g., sanitation, treatment of drinking and waste water) or medical science (e.g., vaccines).

Little of this will work. It cannot work.

HHS response to the drug problem

Policing has failed. We lack effective public health and mental health tools to either effectively prevent or treat drug addiction. Perhaps eventually we will ask ourselves about the causes of this epidemic. Such as alienation.

  1. Diagnosing the Eagle: Alienation.
  2. The bitter fruits of our alienation from America.
  3. Vignettes of men and women in America, alienated from their true selves.
  4. America’s men and women, alienated from our true selves.

For More Information

Ideas! For some shopping ideas, see my recommended books and films at Amazon.

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about the war on drugs, and especially these …

  1. Nixon declared war on drugs, a major investment of America in itself – but one that’s gone bad.
  2. Stratfor: Mexico’s entrepreneurs provide the fentanyl that America wants!
  3. America’s rising tide of drug overdoses, a symptom of deeper problems.

Two books to help us better understand these drugs

The Science of Marijuana by Leslie Iversen. In 1986, the DEA’s legal expert summed up its research: THC is “one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man” and should be rescheduled as a drug physicians can prescribe. From the publisher: Iversen “explains the remarkable advances that have been made in scientific research on cannabis with the discovery of specific receptors and the existence of naturally occurring cannabis-like substances in the brain.”

White Out: The Secret Life of Heroin a memoir by by Michael Clune. From the publisher: “How do you describe an addiction in which the drug of choice creates a hole in your memory, a ‘white out,’ so that every time you use it is the first time – new, fascinating, and vivid? Clune’s original, edgy yet literary telling of his own story takes us straight inside such an addiction.”

The Science of Marijuana
Available at Amazon.
"White Out: the secret life of Heroin" - a memoir by Michel Clune.
Available at Amazon.

21 thoughts on “We’re losing the war on drugs. It’s a symptom of worse ills.

  1. Clearly current drug policy has failed. As prohibition failed before it.

    So the question is, what’s to replace it? My view is that the first step would be to decriminalise possession for personal use. The experience of Portugal is, largely, positive, but there are still some questions regarding the true effects of the policy and how transformational it has been.

    Perhaps the US and other governments should follow this path, and use the money saved in policing and other areas to put more emphasis on safe drug use and providing effective rehab programmes. My own view is that drugs should be legalised and sold through state licensed retailers and taxed. Then at least people could buy stuff of known purity and strength, along with the paraphernalia they need to take it. That alone would see a big drop in drug related deaths.

    In the EU at least, tobacco is an interesting case. The EU decided that smoking was bad for us, and that to encourage people to quit they’d raise prices through substantial taxation (among other measures). They created a black market out of nothing, as criminals found it worth their while to smuggle and make counterfeit product. The smuggling industry is currently worth an estimated $6bn lost tax revenue to the EU, not to mention the costs to the criminal justice system. I guess it’s moot regarding the cost/benefit in terms of reduced deaths from smoking vs. increased costs elsewhere.

    1. Steve,

      I know almost nothing about this subject. But I wonder if this crisis in the US — which seems to be somewhat unique to us — can be fixed by standard tactics like decriminalization. Of course, that’s not to say that it wouldn’t be a good first step. But it might be like painting a rotten hull of a boat.

  2. I would be interested in seeing the breakdown of the numbers according to other demographics. My impression (from headlines, not looking into this) is that opioid death rates are rising particularly among young, white, unemployed/underemployed men from towns and cities which haven’t recovered from the Great Recession. A per capita, geographical breakdown might help us get closer to an understanding of root causes.

    I agree that the problem is spiritual at the level of meaning and purpose that gives hope to life. I have been reading Jordan Peterson’s book on the rules for life. One of his points is that we get meaning in life through taking on personal responsibility and facing suffering. He has heard from many young men who have decided to do just that, and have overcome addictions, changed relationships and made something of themselves. He also decries the identity politics that have marginalized young white men. The last thing you want are large groups of men without hope and purpose. It doesn’t end well.

    1. Kira,

      I too would like more data about the demographics. It’s out there. This post is just an intro, whose length is at or exceeding what most people will read.

      “The last thing you want are large groups of men without hope and purpose. It doesn’t end well.”

      It’s good news for extremist leaders. Bad news for America.

  3. Atomization, alienation…. Seem to be a constant in developed societies, regardless of culture, race or religion (or the absence of it). America seem to have somewhat stronger symptoms, due to local peculiarities, but the disease is the same and points to powerful structural factors: modern division of labor and the changes in career paths, the effects of globalization and automatization/robotization on large parts of the job market, an increase in hopelessness for the lower half of the population, a general sense of aimlessness, the loss or weakening of many basics (family/clan/village) due to economic and social changes (individualization of everything, narcissism on steroids, some modern ideologies…), the loss of a sens of shared destiny (patriotism and religion in steep decline)…. The deep reasons are many, and they are not going away anytime soon.

    France is the second pill popping country in the OECD after the US, and while the use of powerful (legal, or at least “legitimate”) drugs is less easy than in the US, the same trends have been developing of late. The same thing, with different iterations, can be seen in most countries, including Japan and its record high suicide rate.

    A thing that struck me in recent times was the fact that the biggest illicit trade in the world is not, as it was when I grew up, the trafficking of illegal drugs, but the trafficking of legal ones, in their real or counterfeited versions. Legal drugs (or fake versions of them) acquired illegally have passed the “traditional” products made and sell by the successors of Pablo Escobar an his ilk. And the biggest drug cartels in the world are not so much the (still enormous, powerful, and developing) traditional criminal organizations, but the kind that is legitimately traded on Wall Street. It’s been a while since I looked at the data, but back in the 90s and 2000s, half of the R&D budgets (of what actually goes to R&D, and not, in fact, to the most elaborate forms of marketing or acquisitions) of the big pharmaceuticals went to anti-depressants (meaning opiates). My guess would be that this proportion has increased.

    1. Tancrede,

      “Legal drugs (or fake versions of them) acquired illegally have passed the “traditional” products”

      That’s pretty much definitional. Heroin was a legal synthetic drug in the 19thC. Now science has created new and more powerful legal synthetic drugs — with “legal” and “illegal” uses.

      “half the big pharmaceuticals went to anti-depressants (meaning opiates).”

      That’s an important and large point. Much of modern medicine results from considering pathological what were considered facts of life, such as infertility, impotence, and depression. The skyrocketing usage of Ritalin in the US shows that being a young boy has become a medical problem to many parents. Drugging them into doorstops is a relief for many two-career parents.

    2. Anti-depressants and opiates are two verrrry different things.

      Anit-depressants started being handed out like candy when the first SSRI, Prozac, came out. They have been treated like a panacea because they are used to treat conditions that were often treated with tranquilizers and stimulant drugs that can lead to “chasing a high”, and they were not supposedly not addictive(plus, relatively better side effects than the tricyclic antidepressants they largely replaced). The common destruction of sex drive they cause was fine with doctors and the moralists. Unfortunately, they are often much harder to stop using than was previously realized, and they are often prescribed by GPs for patient complaints instead of having people be treated by psychiatrists because we don’t believe that mental heath should be covered the way we cover “physical” conditions.

      Opiates have been with us since the begging of human history, and we have been developing semi-synthetic and fully synthetic opioids since the 19th century. Heroin was marketed as a less addictive substitute for morphine. Oxycodone was developed in Germany in the early 20th century, but only really “took off” as a drug of abuse recently with the marketing of Oxycontin, under the theory that time release opioids would allow better pain relief than immediate release opioids. As it turned out, oxycontin doesn’t really provide pain relief for 12 hours, leaving patients in agony at hour 9 or 10. Since oxycontin might have had problems with FDA approval if it was inferior to time realse morphine, pharm reps encouraged doctors to prescribe larger doses, which still didn’t solve the problem of pain at hour 9 or 10, but it sure helped create addicts.

      While big pharma did certainly know that many prescription opioids were being used recreationally, their malfeasance can’t explain the cocaine overdose figures cited above. I see the big drivers of the US drug problem as follows:

      1) The relentless consumerism which posits happiness as an object to be bought, thrown away, and replaced with new stuff for a fresh dopamine hit., over the idea that happiness is mostly about meaningful and satisfying relationships with other people. (I was about to decry social media, but the internet may be helping as least as much as it hurts on this–I feel like FM and other sites I frequent have led me to realize how many people have similar stuggles to what I face–not a fan of FB however–it often boils down to “dopamine hits.”)

      2) Drug wars in and of themselves . The process is complex, but if you want to find the country with the worst problem with any given drug, just go to the country with the longest record of “fighting hardest” against that drug. The book ” The Consumer’s Union Guide to Licit and Illicit Drugs” documents this process over and over. The most stiking example of unintended effects of prohibition in the book is how British attempts to ban alcohol in Ireland led to an epidemic of ether use, including drinking it!

  4. Wars need to have achievable aims. If you want to have drugs illegal in order to discourage use, then that’s one thing, as long as you understand that you’re never going to entirely eliminate the supply or the demand.

    That’s sort of what we do with prostitution. There are reasons for not wanting to have a lot of it around, so it’s illegal, but everyone understands that its complete elimination is not a realistic goal. If we created a Federal Prostitution Police Force, started carving out exceptions to the Bill Of Rights, confiscating the property of johns and parceling out the money to police forces to buy military gear, we might be losing the War On Prostitution as badly as we’re losing the War On Drugs.

    We’re not going to police or treat our way out of this, and we probably cant legalize our way out of it either. It’s a symptom of other problems. In the absence of hope there’s chemicals, sometimes legal, sometimes not. Or porn Or prostitution. Or voting for Trump Or whatever.

    1. The Man,

      I agree with all of your comment, but it is missing the point.

      “as long as you understand that you’re never going to entirely eliminate the supply or the demand.”

      That’s not the relevant question: drugs or no drugs. As is almost always the case in public policy, the question is magnitude. What are the levels of illegal drug use (ie, what are the levels vs. the damage caused)? What is the trend in usage?

      The levels are far too high, and increasing.

  5. For once the government did something right-ish and it’s the American people who lost this war. We invaded the wrong country in 2003.

    1. Gute,

      What country should we have invaded in 2003?

      Since Mao brought 4GW to maturity after WWII, local insurgencies have a almost perfect record of defeating foreign armies.

  6. After writing my comment above, I realized you could frame many social ills described on this site around the concept of people seeking “dopamine hits.” For instance, clicking and reading “outrage” articles has been shown to be far more “rewarding” than reading pieces with a more neutral tone.

    I think regular FM readers are folks who distrust the “rush.” (Many one-time commentors seem stymied when our dear editor busts their outrage bubble.)Reading FM and reading about dopimine and reward chemistry in the brain has made me make a conscious attempt to avoid the “hit” when I’m surfing the net..

    1. Christopher,

      That’s a fascinating and original observation! Easily Best of Thread.

      Most websites serve a tribe. Such as those feeding raw meat to the Left and Right. If I understand your theory, they are in effect giving them political crack: easy strong hits. That matches my observations, and explains (what I’ve not understood) why these audiences are so uncritical of the content.

      Worth some thought…

    2. Thank you! But I just happened to walk a few steps further down the trail you’ve been blazing for a long time here, the direction was quite clear…..after years of trying to beat my own “addiction.” “Righteous” rage is a hell of a drug.

      I’m still going through rehab, every day.

      I’m not the biggest fan of 12 step programs, but I think the methphor has come up here before…”Step #1: I realized I WAS THE PROBLEM I SAW IN THE WORLD.” I feel like you’ve been beating ths drum so hard that sometimes it seems like you feel like your beating your head into a wall. Teaching involves much painful repition to a class of seemingly asleep students at times.

      Beats me what steps 2-12 are, but at least I realized who was really the problem.

      I think arguments based in our increasing knowledge of the brain are a possible escape from tribalism, but of course we will need to be careful not to just reframe the same tribal arguments as before as “scientific.”

      Another powerful metaphor that may illuminate our problem is that of the abusive relationship in which the victim can’t manage leaving the abuser …which now has a pretty solid theoretical basis in brain structure science and attachment theory if this interview is correct…I plan to buy Ms. Stein’s book next paycheck.

      https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=rrogvftFS_c#

      And as a general plug for Mr. Shelton, I must say the study of cults/”high control groups” has much to say about “the problem” as well.

      Thanks again for helping me at least see the chains.

  7. “The levels are far too high, and increasing”

    No argument. So what is to be done? if we can’t police our way or treat our way out, or legaliza our way out, then what’s left? Could we at least partly buy our way out?

    Could we buy up the opium poppy crops of drug producing countries for less money than we’re spending on interdiction, incarceration, and treatment? Could we get a useful reduction of supply by buying up as much available stock as possible? It will be argued that we would be funding corruption and rewarding drug producers, but we’re doing that anyway. Didn’t the Nixon Administration buy up a lot of the Turkish poppy crop at one point?

    It’s not a perfect solution. But then what is? Would it be worth trying?

    Regarding Christopher Pinkleton’s excellent comment, I will simply say that I can get my outrage fix at work. I don’t need to come here for that.

    1. Christopher,

      That’s a great name! If we get a good image to accompany it, I might do that.

  8. Anti-depressants and opiates are two verrrry different things.

    Anit-depressants started being handed out like candy when the first SSRI, Prozac, came out. They have been treated like a panacea because they are used to treat conditions that were often treated with tranquilizers and stimulant drugs that can lead to “chasing a high”, and they were not supposedly not addictive(plus, relatively better side effects than the tricyclic antidepressants they largely replaced). The common destruction of sex drive they cause was fine with doctors and the moralists. Unfortunately, they are often much harder to stop using than was previously realized, and they are often prescribed by GPs for patient complaints instead of having people be treated by psychiatrists because we don’t believe that mental heath should be covered the way we cover “physical” conditions.

    It turns out that SSRIs are therapeutically no better than a placebo. Good cognitive behavioral therapy, which is extremely hard to find, is about the only thing that works though a lot of depression resolves on its own. If you can change the way you think, you can change the way you feel. On that note, all of these drugs are a placebo for the awful spiritual state of your average American. Since we’ve abandoned Christianity, drugs, consumerism, and other vices are being used to fill the void. Since we’re here to ‘reignite the spirit of a nation grown cold’ (Matthew 24:12), we should pray for an extensive Reformation of the American church.

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