Change, don’t soften, the “war on drugs”

The only proper approach to the “war on drugs” is to focus on the crime instead of the victim.

Anant Naik

An extensive article by the New York Times recently discussed important information regarding how drugs like heroin are becoming more prevalent in the United States. 
 
While heroin usage has increased across all demographics, data show that an astonishing 90 percent of new heroin users in the past decade were white. 
 
Faced with this disturbing reality, white middle-class families are waking up to the fact that their demographic is experiencing higher rates of drug addiction than before. Now, many of them want to soften the punishments used in the “war on drugs,” which has a goal to remove these harmful addictive drugs from the streets. 
 
Many researchers agree with the proposition that drug addiction shouldn’t be seen as a crime — if anything, as a disease. 
 
However, I don’t think this means that we should diminish or soften the fight against many harmful substances. It means that the priorities of the “war” and the identity of whom the government should target should change. We should still go after the big drug dealers and drug kingpins, who make a living by poisoning this country’s youth.
 
First, it’s important to understand the economic costs of drug abuse in the U.S. According to a 2001 study, the total cost of heroin to the U.S. was $21.9 billion in 1996. In 2007, illicit drugs accounted for $193 billion annually.  
 
A high rate of drug use in the U.S. is one of the prime causes of the expansive drug cartel network located throughout Latin America. Because of the decline in demand for marijuana, drug cartels have begun pushing substantially more dangerous drugs like heroin and cocaine. 
 
Organizations like the Sinaloa cartel, headed by the infamous Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, are now the primary distributers of heroin in the U.S. and North America at large.
 
The cartel has begun to rely on local poppy plants like those in the Sinaloa state of Sierra de Culican in Mexico. This local production has made narcotics easier to produce.
 
This increased production of narcotics has led to a larger flow of illicit drugs and has made it cheaper for addicts to get heroin. Increased demand, of course, bolsters drug revenue for cartels. And while economically, the U.S. may be the loser, people continue to die as a result of cartel violence every year in Mexico — in fact, over the past 10 years, about 100,000 people have died as a result of drug violence in Mexico. 
 
Many people have expressed the concern that the war on drugs isn’t working — they’re absolutely right. We’ve been focusing on the wrong group of people. Instead of directing our resources toward harmful illicit drugs, we’ve been punishing addicts and nonviolent drug users. Instead, we need to invest in better treatment for drug addiction. 
 
However, drugs like heroin and cocaine are where the real violence is. That violence is increasing as the demand for those drugs increases. And in order to stop it, we should be working with Mexico and other Latin American countries to more aggressively go after cartels. That isn’t a “softer” stance on the war on drugs — it’s the right one.