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Tuesday, October 1, 2013

What if the war on drugs was failing?

What if we were to come to the conclusion that the war on drugs has been a failure? What if we were to link that war to increased violence in communities? What if, despite the war on drugs, they have become more potent and less expensive? These are the conclusions of research done by the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy (Disclosure: I am a recent member).

The answer to these questions raises significant concern for the child protection systems. If indeed, the war on drugs has failed, then we must conclude that the billions of dollars being spent in interdiction are not being spent wisely. These monies may indeed not be reducing the demand for drugs and are not assisting those that have become drug dependent.  It may also mean that too many families have been disrupted as interdiction leads to high levels of incarceration (particularly in the United States) for individuals who have been in possession of small amounts of drugs or have been at the lower end of the drug dealing enterprise.  For children, this has meant reduced family cohesion, a parent in jail, increased financial strain in the family and possibly placement in care outside the family.

What perhaps may be missing is a focus on rehabilitation via seeing the person who is abusing or dependent on drugs as having a medical disease. A large volume of research supports that addiction is just that – a disease. Indeed, the Canadian and American societies on Addiction Medicine have taken a stand that addiction is a primary disease. What other medical condition do we treat as a crime in the way that we treat addiction?
What the body of research leads us to is that the financial resources should be redirected to health interventions. The research also leads us to a discussion about the role that gover
nment should play in the marketplace. We need a better discussion about whether government should retail marijuana, for example, in the way that it retails alcohol.  

Where I live, in Calgary Canada, not a single day goes by that I do not walk down a main street smelling someone using marijuana. It is now prevalent. Access is easy.
The ICSDP research notes:
     The study authors conclude that there is a need to re-examine metrics of drug strategy effectiveness, which currently place a disproportionate emphasis on seizures as a marker of reducing drug supply rather than reducing problematic drug use. For example, rather than using indicators of the quantity of drugs seized, which appear to be unrelated to actual supply, governments could assess the effectiveness of their drug policies by employing indicators of drug-related harm such as the number of overdoses, the rate of blood-borne disease transmission (e.g., HIV and hepatitis C) among people who use drugs, or emergency room mentions of drugs.  

Children in the child protection system will benefit from greater family cohesion if a health approach is taken. We can reduce the costs of child protection by focusing community efforts on treating. This is not an easy discussion but when the evidence keeps mounting that the present approach is not working, it is needed discussion.

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