A Highly Respected Medical Journal Just Declared The War On Drugs An Epic Failure

15139735_1495323237162953_1575240174_nBy Carey Wedler

“The war on drugs has failed,” the editors of the peer-reviewed British Medical Journal declared this week, arguing that doctors should lead the global effort to reform drug policy.

Fiona Godlee, the journal’s editor-in-chief, and Richard Hurley, its features and debates editor, penned an analysis citing academic and scientific reports to argue global policies on drug use — including the United Nations’ — have fallen drastically short.

Godlee and Hurley note the annual cost of prohibition, which entails criminalizing “producers, traffickers, dealers, and users,” totals at least $100 billion annually.

“But the effectiveness of prohibition laws, colloquially known as the ‘war on drugs,’ must be judged on outcomes,” they write. “And too often the war on drugs plays out as a war on the millions of people who use drugs, and disproportionately on people who are poor or from ethnic minorities and on women.

The authors cite a variety of reasons why the global war on drugs has been a failure.

Citing an academic study on international drug policy from the Lancet medical journal, the authors argue that “prohibition and stigma encourage less safe drug consumption and push people away from health services.”

These policies have other negative consequences. Godlee and Hurley highlight the current situation between Russia and Crimea, “where patients in Crimea died after the Russian invasion because they were forced to stop taking methadone, which is viewed as opioid misuse and illegal in Russia.”

Further, though opioid addiction is a growing epidemic, “drug control policies effectively deny two-thirds of the world’s population—more than five billion people—legitimate access to opioids for pain control.”

Another problem [pdf] with prohibition policies, they argue, is that “they impede research into medical use of cannabis and other prohibited drugs despite evidence of potential benefit.”

This is the case in the United States, where the federal government’s designation of cannabis as a Schedule I drug has hampered the ability of scientists to research the medical effects of the plant. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) recently ruled to maintain this classification. This decision was largely deemed hypocritical, especially considering the United States government holds a patent on cannabis for its antioxidant properties. The federal government’s National Cancer Institute also admits cannabis can help treat the symptoms of cancer and that “[c]annabis has been shown to kill cancer cells in the laboratory.” In spite of the promise of the plant, it remains prohibited under federal law.

Still, Godlee and Hurley argue, the effects of the drug war aren’t limited to health. They extend to the realm of human rights:

All wars cause human rights violations, and the war on drugs is no different. Criminally controlled drug supply markets lead to appalling violence—causing an estimated 65 000-80 000 deaths in Mexico in the past decade, for example [pdf]. Mandatory sentencing for even minor drug offences has helped the United States attain the highest rate of incarceration in the world [pdf]. The Philippines has seen 5000 extrajudicial killings [pdf] since July, after President Rodrigo Duterte’s call for vigilantism against drug dealers.

The paper also cites countries around the world that have moved to lessen the invasiveness of the drug war. They cite Portugal, which famously removed criminal penalties for drugs 15 years ago.

Further, they note:

Jurisdictions such as Canada, Uruguay, and several US states, now including California, and have gone further, to allow regulated non-medical cannabis markets, retaking control of supply from organised crime. The Netherlands has tolerated regulated cannabis sales for decades.

The editors of the BMJ acknowledge drugs can cause harm. But they argue “governments should decriminalise minor drug offences” and “strengthen health and social sector approaches,” as well as move toward regulated drug markets.

Most importantly, they assert doctors should play a key role in developing drug policy.

Health should be at the centre of this debate and so, therefore, should healthcare professionals. Doctors are trusted and influential and can bring a rational and humane dimension to ideology and populist rhetoric about being tough on crime.

The BMJ editors are not the first to condemn the war on drugs. Earlier this year, over 1,000 world leaders, scientists, and medical experts condemned the U.N.’s half-hearted effort to reform its drug policies. In a separate criticism of the U.N.’s proposed solutions, 194 advocacy groups also expressed disappointment.

Similarly, a group of doctors in the United States called Doctors for Cannabis Regulation has advocated an end to marijuana prohibition in favor of regulation of the market.

BMJ acknowledges efforts like these but asserts “such calls are far from universal—and far from loud enough.”

Doctors and their leaders have ethical responsibilities to champion individual and public health, human rights, and dignity and to speak out where health and humanity are being systemically degraded.

“Change is coming,” they conclude, “and doctors should use their authority to lead calls for pragmatic reform informed by science and ethics.”

This article (A Highly Respected Medical Journal Just Declared the War on Drugs an Epic Failure) is free and open source. You have permission to republish this article under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Carey Wedler and theAntiMedia.org. Anti-Media Radio airs weeknights at 11 pm Eastern/8 pm Pacific. If you spot a typo, please email the error and name of the article to edits@theantimedia.org.

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9 Comments on "A Highly Respected Medical Journal Just Declared The War On Drugs An Epic Failure"

  1. It’s encouraging to see this kind of piece in such a mainstream publication but as long as we pretend the global war on drugs and especially the American version has anything to do with keeping drugs from people for their safety or health we’ll not make the real progress we need. Not that there isn’t genuine opinion both from the public and govt in favor of the policies for that very reason.

  2. oh the greatness of the scam. Vietnam-era veteran here…..remember that war for drugs and corporate profits, wherew 3,000,000 died and my generation was devoured, while protest leaders were murdered or bought off? Then there are all the individual cases of drug frame-ups…..remember former New York DEA Chief Michael Levine (May-June 1995 issue of The Utne Reader) – “the legions of belly-crawlers in Government employ”. Etc. etc. etc.

  3. Imbibe for the health of it.

  4. And “We the People” have been saying this for how many tears?????

  5. Governments shouldn’t try to legislate morality of their peoples; Nixon was wrong and it’s not the gov’s business. If people want to take drugs, they’ll do so whether or not they are legal. So why not legalize all drugs with the government’s role to regulate production, so drug users can reliably predict dosage/effects?

  6. There are clear reasons for why the War on Drugs goes on and they include the usual suspects from profiteering to destruction of neighborhoods and growth of gangs. Selling drugs is incredibly profitable, and it is no wonder that the Bush Family partnered with the Clintons while Bill Clinton was governor of Arkansas and used the airport at Mena, Arkansas as a central receiving post for their massive distribution network operating within the government and immune from any prosecution. The DEA started in 1973 began the questionable practice of paid informants, enlisting drug dealers themselves to sell out those inside their organizations. There is no part of this War On Drugs mess that was run with integrity. Meanwhile, the dealers themselves have lobbied to keep drugs illegal as legality would eliminate their profits. The losers are the tens of millions of addicts who are hooked and ruined. Very little thought has gone into addiction medicine, so the kinds of drug treatment programs merely hook folks on legal drugs, cigaretts and caffein. Like with alcohol, the death toll on families and the children of these addicts continues to spiral. A new approach is most certainly needed.

  7. I disagree with the premise of the story. Before the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act and like acts around the world at the time to clean up the global bad habit, all forms of subhumans ran opium around the world and had to compete keeping prices low. Still very profitable, in the 1800s Europe and US rammed it into the orient, building railroads and banks to regions in China as a way to “pay” the Chinese for their products, launder the money, and bring their spoils and opium back home for sale with protection of naval power (how the west opened up the Far East!). All of it was legal, and written about. Great fortunes were made, of which some of the most powerful global interests made a name for themselves. More money for the bankers and merchants at the exse of the masses, but just supply/demand of pure capitalism. With the outcry of the people, laws were “made” to restrict product, great drug companies were became huge like John Purdue Gray Pharma, Eli Lilly and others. Demand and use actually jumped. With the help of restriction, prices went up, demand went up, and drug use was worse. Of course, a drug war would eliminate the drug problem! Nixons’s war on drugs was the best price support for covert operations a country could ask for. Money laundering was made illegal, but as we know with HSBC and several other financial interests of scandal in the 70s, 80s, 90s…, that was only if the launderer was small enough to be prosecuted or owned by an unapproved group of “Investors”. Now, after 15 years in Afghanistan, decades in Columbia and Central America, we should know that drug money float the nations running their operations with the full knowledge and support of the owners of the nations of the world, those that produce money and credit to keep the skids of trade running, taking a percentage off the top and the very land of the people of the world as collateral.

  8. LOL $100 Billion a year to enforce Prohibition… Maybe 20 years ago. These authoritarian monkeys in suits & badges have destroyed so many lives with their ego & ignorance.
    Ending prohibition can’t come soon enough.

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