Nick Sandberg, 1999

The massive and ever-increasing presence of illicit drugs within our society is prompting much concern. The US government’s “War on Drugs” is demonstrably not working and further considered by many to be counterproductive.

Here in the UK, the number of people using heroin is now reckoned to be approaching 2% of the general population of some cities. Yet little effective strategy to combat the problem appears to be forthcoming from government. And the impression we’re invariably given by the media is that there is little that can be done except punish the user. My opinion is that there are in truth a great number of things that could be being done, but that for various reasons governments are highly unwilling to undertake them. Preferring instead to bombard us with laughably ineffective media campaigns to ‘just say no’ and similar.

I believe there are four principal reasons why government is allowing the drug situation to get so out of control.

Firstly, heroin, and also cocaine, are now such major commodities, any effective attack on their presence would inevitably have a considerable knock-on effect on the world markets. Some analysts suggest effective action to lower heroin and cocaine supplies could end the current bull run and cause the market to enter a phase of depression. Something those who run the worlds finances seem determined to prevent.

Secondly, it helps facilitate transnational corporate expansionism. In a world where very big companies are seeking to get bigger still; to expand their holdings, both fiscal and human; it is very useful to be able to both socially and politically disenfranchise those persons who, for one reason or another, do not quite fit into the corporate gameplan. Heroin achieves this aim admirably. It is a high-strength painkiller, the action of which is to reduce the emotional impact of incoming stimuli on the user and so lower our response to our environment. People using heroin simply ‘care’ less. Junkies typically neither vote nor riot. They are rendered socially and politically inactive by their drug of choice and so do little to threaten the advance of corporate culture. Some writers have noted that anarhist or anti-capitalism groups frequently appear to be actually ‘targetted’ by drug gangs selling heroin.

Thirdly, the international crime syndicates and local criminal gangs that are the inevitable result of the illicit drug trade permit the expansion of anti-crime legislation and the erosion of civil liberty. Greater regulation of financial transactions, increased public surveillance by camera, and increased “stop and search” powers for police being a few examples.

And finally, the obvious presence of a drug-using underclass within our society provides both a useful excuse for the prevalence of many social ills that in truth relate to government-induced social inequality and policy failure, and serves as a “warning” to those who are attracted to a life of non-conformity of what can happen to people who don’t do as society wants.

So, what could really be being done about the drug problem?

One solution to the problem of illicit drugs was explored at a recent international conference in New York. In June 1998, at a Special Session of the United Nations Drug Control Programme, newly elected UNDCP head, Pino Arlacchi, delivered an address to some 168 world leaders and their representatives. In it he outlined his “grand plan” to eliminate heroin and cocaine worldwide by the use of crop replacement programmes, (schemes to encourage or compel poppy and coca farmers to switch crops to something less damaging). Arlacchi, a former mafia-buster in his native Italy, had pioneered such schemes in places like Burma and Afghanistan with considerable success.

Arlacchi’s plan was costed at US$5 billion, divided between participating nations and spread over ten years. This is not a lot of money, especially when one considers that the US State Department openly admits illicit drugs cost the US economy alone over $75 billion per annum. There are problems but Arlacchi insists they could be overcome.

(What is also interesting about Arlacchi’s plan is that, despite the presence of Clinton and countless other world leaders at its unveiling, barely a word of it has escaped to the media. In the UK, to the best of my knowledge, it has not attracted a single column centimetre of coverage in any major newspaper. In a country where tales of playground drug dealers regale our front pages on a weekly basis, it seems it’s decided no-one would be interested in hearing about a UN head who says he can eliminate drugs at source! Needless to say, the plan to eliminate heroin and cocaine has received virtually no funding to date).

In addition, much recent research reveals that drug addiction is not some random social ill induced by hedonistic lifestyles or poverty, but rather a “coping stategy” used by people who’ve suffered childhood trauma. If further resources were diverted to both informing the public of this and treating the cause of the problem not the symptom, great progress in the battle against addiction would very likely result.

And finally, many people are also not aware of the existence of substances that can eliminate the symptoms of withdrawal associated with drug addiction. The most noteworthy of which being ibogaine, an indole alkaloid derived from an African plant source. Ibogaine, in addition to removing withdrawal symptomology, is beneficially oneirogenic. Meaning it induces a dreamlike state in which the user can begin to examine his or her drug-using behaviour from a new perspective, frequently helping to facilitate long-term drug abstinence.

To sum up, I believe that if people want to see an end to the problems drugs are presenting within their communities they need to stop listening to the opinions relayed to them by the media and go out explore the issues for themselves.

Nick Sandberg, Winter ’99

By Dev