IN A FREE MARKET ECONOMY:
What the pharmaceutical, tobacco,
and narcotics trade have in common
David Werner, Keynote address for AMSA's 43rd
"A Prescription for Action: Use, Misuse & Abuse of
Miami, Florida, March 25-28, 1993
The American Medical Students Association has chosen a daunting
theme for this year's annual convention. The rampant misuse
of drugs -- both legal and illicit -- has become a major and
growing threat to health: of individuals, of communities,
and of society as a whole. Official campaigns to combat substance
abuse have largely failed because professionals and politicians
tend to "blame the victims" rather than to confront
the systemic root of the problem.
To tie together the threads of this year's convention, I
would argue that the current pandemic of drug misuse has its
roots in the unfair economic and sociopolitical structures
of our society. This implies that meaningful attempts to acheive
more limited and rational use of drugs must be linked to a
grassroots struggle for liberation from unjust social. economic,
and political structures. In short, it means working toward
a more people-friendly, more truly democratic social order.
Thus all of us, as health workers, are faced with an enormous
In looking at the patterns of drug misuse in today's world,
we must consider three major categories: illegal drugs such
as heroin and cocaine, legal but equally addictive drugs such
as tobacco and alcohol, and pharmaceuticals, or drugs used
The market for all of these drugs -- pharmaceuticals, alcohol,
tobacco, and illicit drugs -- is controlled by giant multinational
industries. Each of these powerful industries, in unscrupulous
pursuit of maximum profits, causes immeasurable damage to
the health and well-being of hundreds of millions of people.
To better understand today's high levels of abuse, it is
essential to consider the close ties between big government
and big business. To the casual observer, it may seem ironic
that the US government blatantly subsidizes some of the most
unnecessary and dangerous drugs, fastidiously regulates others,
and appears to wage an all-out war on yet others. But if we
look more closely at the role of government in relation to
each category of drugs, we find that it consistently puts
the interests of powerful industries before the well-being
of ordinary people. In last analysis, the War on Drugs is
as phoney a facade as the Surgeon General's warning on cigarette
packages. Just as the US government continues to subsidize
and protect the tobacco industry, so its covert operations
have spurred the traffick of heroin and cocaine into the United
States. And, likewise, many governments' policies on pharmaceuticals
do more to defend the profits of industry than the health
Let us look at each of these three categories of drugs.
First, pharmaceuticals. World wide, but especially in poor
countries, modern Western medicines are a two-edged sword.
When used well and made available at prices people can afford,
they can save many lives. But when overused and misused, or
sold at prices that make them inaccessible or further impoverish
those in greatest need, they can become yet another way of
capitalizing on the suffering and powerlessness of disadvantaged
Multinational drug companies have flooded the world market
with overpriced, irrational, dangerous, useless, and redundant
medicines. More than 50,000 pharmaceutical products are peddled
in most countries, of which the World Health Organization
(WHO) states that only about 270 are really needed. Over a
decade ago, WHO published a list of "Essential Drugs",
largely as a guide for procurement. This list is important
because many Third World countries spend up to half their
health budgets on pharmaceuticals, many of which are either
totally inappropriate or more highly priced than safer, more
Part of the problem is the double-standard of multinational
drug companies. Time and again, medications that have been
banned or restricted in the North are "dumped" on
poor countries, sometimes with the help of under-the-table
bribes paid to health officers. Toxic and potentially dangerous
drugs are routinely promoted in the South for everyday ailments.
Warnings about their risks and precautions are often incomplete
or omitted. Earnings from the world trade of prohibitted pharmaceuticals
is increasing at an alarming rate, and now exceeds $20 billion
The persistently high child mortality rate in poor countries
is in part due to the unethical practices of multinational
As all of you know, the biggest killer of children in the
world today is diarrheal disease, which drains the life out
of at least 4 million children annually. Studies have shown
that in some poor countries the death rate from diarrhea in
babies who are bottle fed is up to 25 times as high as in
babies who are breast fed. ,
The multinationals that produce infant formula are partly
to blame. UNICEF calculates that the continuing violations
of the International Baby Milk Code by multinational producers
of infant formula contribute to one million children's deaths
But the multinational drug companies also contribute to high
child mortality through the promotion of irrational and often
harmful anti-diarrheal medications. These include every conceivable
presentation and combination of antibiotics, stool-thickeners,
and anti-motility drugs. Many of theses products cause dangerous
side effects, mask signs of dehydration, or actually prolong
the infection and aggravate the diarrhea. WHO has issued a
strong condemnation of these "anti-diarrheals".
But the drug companies continue to rake in $150 million per
year from them, most of it from the pockets of the poor.
Although untoward side-effects are a problem, the biggest
danger of these unnecessary medicines to children of poor
families is their cost . Such costs are often substantial.
In Lima, Peru, for example, medications and visits to the
doctor for childhood diarrhea cost many poor families more
than one third of their monthlly wage.
To quote the Director of Mexico's National Nutrition Institute,
"The child who dies from diarrhea dies from malnutrition."
When a poor family spends its limited money on useless medicines
instead of food, the risk of death from diarrhea or other
diseases of poverty increases. Thus the unscrupulous promotion
of needless medicines for child diarrhea may be as deadly
as that of baby milk products.
The United States government -- despite its claims of being
for and by the people -- has a long history of defending the
interests of big business, whatever the human and environmental
costs. Remember that the US was the only country which refused
to endorse the International Baby Milk Code. It has also aggressively
protected the interests of the pharmaceutical companies at
the expense of people's health.
In 1982, the health ministry of Bangladesh adopted a National
Drug Policy compatible with WHO guidelines. Its stated aim
was "to ensure that the common people get the essential
and necessary drugs easily and at a cheap rate, and to ensure
that such drugs are good quality and are useful, effective,
and safe." It prohibited import of over 1600 useless,
harmful, or ineffective products. In angry response, multinational
drug companies warned that it might stop shipment of life-saving
medicines. The US government -- backing the multinationals
-- threatened to halt foreign aid to Bangladesh if it did
not revoke its policy. Amazingly, with relatively few compromises,
Bangladesh has so far stood its ground.
But recently Bangladesh's National Drug Policy has been under
renewed attack, this time by the World Bank. The Bank's structural
adjustment policies have already forced Bangladesh -- like
other debt-burdened countries -- to make devastating cut-backs
on health care, education, and food subsidies for the poor.
And now the Bank -- according to Lancet -- has "suggested"
that Bangladesh make "detailed changes" in its National
Drug Policy to emphasize the importance of a "free market"
approach to medicines control.
Second, let us look at the tobacco industry. (In our discussion
of legal but dangerously addictive drugs we should, of course,
also include alcoholic beverages. But for the sake of brevity,
let us stick to tobacco.)
Tobacco -- as you know -- is as addictive as cocaine, and
in terms of diseases and death, much more dangerous. Tobacco
causes far more deaths than all illicit drugs combined. In
the United States cigarette smoking is a contributory cause
in one out of every 5 deaths. Unfortunately, smoking not only
damages the health of active smokers, but also the health
of those around them. Of nearly half a million smoking-related
deaths in the US every year, more than 50,000 -- or one in
ten -- are passive smokers. Secretary Sullivan says that 10%of
infant mortality in the US can be traced to tobacco use by
prgnant mothers. In addition to its high death toll, smoking
also causes a wide range of permanent disability, ranging
from developmental delay in fetuses of mothers who smoke,
to cerebrovascular accidents and other circulatory disease.
In England it is reported that 80% of leg amputations are
related to smoking.
Joe Camel and the Marlboro Man have made it clear that children
are a primary target of cigarette advertising. The tobacco
companies must work hard to replace the 1200 smokers who die
every day in the US. With the gradual decline of smokers in
the North, tobacco companies are more aggressively targeting
the Third World. Data shows that for every person who quits
smoking in the industrialized countries, two persons start
smoking in the Third World.
As with unnecessary medicines and infant milk products, it
is the money that poor families spend on the tobacco habit
that often presents its biggest threat to health. For the
hundreds of millions of workers who earn less than one dollar
a day, buying cigarettes means less food. A recent study in
Bangladesh shows that child malnutrition and mortality are
higher in families with father's who smoke.
Some countries have passed laws prohibiting import of tobacco,
or have banned advertising. But the US government, claiming
that such restrictions are a violation of the free market,
has threatened these countries with trade sanctions. Yielding
to this pressure, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, and Thailand
-- have opened up their markets to American tobacco. As a
result, cigarette consumption in these countries has increased
substantially. Inevitably, so will the rate of smoking-related
The World Health Organization warns that if the present trend
of increased smoking in poor countries continues, tobacco
related deaths will soon reach pandemic proportions. In India
nearly a million people a year now die from smoking.
It has become clear that in the United States more deaths
are related to cigarette smoking than to any other single
factor. From a purely economic view, tobacco now costs the
US 52 billion dollars a year in medical costs, lost wages,
and other losses.
Then why does the US government -- which criminalizes much
less lethal, less addictive substances like marijuana -- not
only tolerate over-the-counter sale of tobacco but continue
to subsidize and under-tax the industry? Most other industrialized
countries place a very high tax on cigarettes. This discourages
use -- especially among teenagers -- and generates revenue
for public services. Yet the United States has the lowest
cigarette tax of all the industrialized countries. But why?
The answer lies, in part, in the powerful lobby of the tobacco
companies. Government officials want to get re-elected, so
they cater to the "political action committees"
of big business. High ranking leaders in the presidential
election campaigns of both Ronald Reagan and George Bush just
happened to be important functionaries in US tobacco companies.
After elections these tobacco potentates were given high ranking
government posts where they could play key roles in policy-making.
And don't think it is just the Republicans. Bill Clinton's
campaign manager for this last election was a top-ranking
lawyer with a tobacco company. However, such allegiances with
the vested interests of corporate power -- which make a sham
of democracy -- are not exclusive to the United States. When
Margaret Thatcher left her position as prime minister of Britain,
she reportedly moved into a million dollar a year consult
job with a major British tobacco company.
In the words of former US Surgeon General, Dr. C. Everett
Koop, "The support of politicians and political parties
by those associated with the tobacco industry is unconscionable.
How can Americans believe political promises for health care
reform when both parties seem to be associated with an industry
that disseminates disease, disability, and death."
We are faced with this disturbing reality. In today's so-called
"New World Order" (which is in fact an entrenchment
of the Old) the giant killer industries -- ranging from baby
milk products to tobacco, to alcohol, to the entire military-industrial
complex -- have more power in the decision-making process
of so-called democratic nations than do the people themselves.
Big business is no longer within the law. Rather, it reshapess
the laws to fit its needs and greed.
Third, let us look at illegal drugs. Of course, the apparent
hard line between legal and illegal drugs historically shifts
back and forth; it is determined more by power games and politics
than by rational concerns about personal health or social
well-being. Some drugs that are legal today have been illegal
in the past, such as alcohol during prohibition. And some
drugs that are illegal today were quite legal in the past,
such as marijuana, opium products, and cocaine. Recall that
Coca Cola gets its name from the early formula, which actually
contained coca, the unrefined base of cocaine.
In fact, looking back, the distinction between pharmaceutical
drugs and illicit drugs becomes blurred. Heroine, a derivative
of morphine, was for a time widely used in medical practice.
Marijuana, too, has a wide range of medicinal uses, ranging
from treatment of arthritis and glaucoma to the severe nausea
of chemotherapy. And conversely, many modern pharmaceuticals
such as amphetamines and diazepam (Valium) are often misused
The question of decriminalization of illicit drugs -- together
with greater investment in education and treatment facilities
-- needs to be seriously considered. It seems to have worked
reasonably well in Holland.
Certainly, the criminalization of the narcotics trade has
inflated its price tag and helped turn it into the giant,
ruthless and corrupting multinational industry it is today.
As with many other powerful multinationals , the relationship
and clandestine agreements between drug cartels and big government
have become a major obstacle to a healthy and democratic social
During the last 40 years, covert operations of the US government
have utilized international narcotics trade to help finance
the destabilization of liberation movements and national democratic
struggles that resist the dominant free-market paradigm. Here
we cannot explore in depth the links between the US government,
corporate powers, and the international narcotics trade, in
their attempt to dominate global politics and economics. Lots
of well-documented investigative research has been done on
this subject -- some of it by congressional committees --
but very little has penetrated the mainstream media. Indeed,
cover-up and disinformation have become the most effective
weapon of social control.
Nevertheless, numerous observers -- including a number of
official investigators, disillusioned drug enforcement officers,
and CIA drop-outs -- concur that the US government's so-called
War on Drugs is in large part a sham. Indeed, many critics
allege that the US government itself, through its covert actions
and arms-for-drugs deals, has done more to increase the flow
of illicit narcotics into the United States than any other
During the carefully staged Iran-Contra Investigations, great
care was taken in the carefully staged public hearings to
cover-up the arms for drugs deals. Yet a wealth of evidence
indicates that various branches of the US government collaborated
with drug traffickers to bring tons of heroine and cocaine
into the US. To sidestep US Customs, some drug shipments were
unloaded at the US air force base in Homestead, Florida. The
airplanes that brought drugs into the US were reloaded with
weapons and explosives and flown back to Central America to
resupply the Contras in their terrorist war against the Sandinista
government of Nicaragua. This was during the years when the
Boland Amendment had outlawed miliary assistance to the Contras.
Hence many of the arms shipments and land mines paid for by
peddling drugs on the streets of America were disguised under
the label of "humanitarian aid." In fact, the arms
shipments, like the drug shipments, violated both national
and international law.
Tragically, these abuses are not a bizarre exception to a
system of governing which is essentially honest and benign.
They are par for the course. When occasionally national scandal
break out, mock investigations are conducted. A few rotten
apples may be fingered to distract attention from the rotten
But if we want to get at the roots of the drug problem, and
of the widespread deterioration of the economic and social
fabric of our nation and our world, we must look at the structure
of the barrel itself. Drug growing, drug trafficking, and
drug use are symptoms, not the cause, of the social, economic,
and political imbalance in our society.
With the advent of our so-called "New World Order",
the US government has amplified its role as global policeman
and power-broker. But too often, policemen are bullies. And
in fact, the US has a long history of heavy-handed intervention,
especially in the Third World. Over the years, through overt
and covert actions, it has displaced or neutralized many of
the most popular and more egalitarian leaders, and has replaced
them with some of the most corrupt and authoritarian rulers.
The number of lives lost, human rights violations committed,
and children starved through these high and low intensity
operations adds up to many millions.
In recent decades, the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)
has been central to these global power plays designed to protect
the interests of America's ruling elite. And as history has
borne out, where the CIA is involved, the underworld of organized
crime and drug trafficking often becomes entwined in the plot.
Consider the events surrounding the US invasion of Panama
to depose Manuel Noriega, who was accused of narcotrafficking.
But how did Noriega rise to power? And who supported him?
Those of you who have read Graham Green's Getting to Know
the General are aware of the allegations that the CIA was
involved in the mysterious death of General Torrijos, which
left Noriega as de facto Chief of State. When George Bush
was Director of the CIA, Noriega was on the Agency's payroll.
During this same time -- with full knowledge of the CIA --
Noriega helped Panama become a major transit point for South
American drugs destined for the US. With his earnings from
the laundering of drug money, and allegedly under pressure
from the US government, he helped to finance the Contra insurgency
in Nicaragua. Noriega was neutralized not because he was a
drug trafficker, but because he was a loose cannon, and had
become too feisty. (Before the invasion he had bragged that
he had George Bush "by the balls".)
The irony is that the puppet president who replaced Noriega,
and whom the US government has backed so strongly through
its continued military occupation of Panama, has just as dark
a history in drug dealing and as close ties with the Colombian
cartels as did Noriega. No wonder, therefore, the US Drug
Enforcement Agency ( DEA) reports that "Cocaine shipments
through Panama have jumped since Noriega's capture in 1989."
Throughout Latin America, the US sponsored War on Drugs rings
just as hollow. In Peru, the US government has poured millions
of dollars into its military, despite the evidence that large
sectors of the Peruvian military are deeply involved in drug
trafficking. And curiously, President Fujimori's former election
campaign director -- who currently heads Peru's anti-drug
initiative -- allegedly has a long history of ties to the
South American drug mafia as well as links to the CIA.
In Bolivia in 1980 a gang of drug lords headed by general
Garcia Meza and Colonel Arce Gomez took over the Bolivian
government and, with direct cooperation of the Army, boosted
the drug trade. There is evidence that this notorious "coca
coup" was carried out with collaboration of the CIA and
A similar pattern can be seen in various countries in Latin
America and South East Asia, where the US government provides
weapons and assistance to local armies, ostensibly to combat
the growing, processing, and trafficking of drugs, in spite
of evidence that these military units are themselves deeply
embroiled in the drug trade.
It has become increasingly clear that the so-called War on
Drugs is promoted for other reasons than its stated objective.
In the United States it has been used to justify forceful
intervention in other countries, as well as to provide an
excuse for continued our high military expenditures. Now that
the Soviet Union has disintegrated and the Cold War has come
to an end, new enemies are needed. A fearsome one has been
created through the War on Drugs.
But is it a war the US government really wants to win? Probably
not. The illegal drug trade -- like tobacco, pharmaceuticals,
and weapons -- is a lucrative multinational enterprise tied
into the global economy. Export earnings from drug trafficking
into the United States are what have enabled many destitute
countries to keep servicing their huge foreign debt to the
Northern Banks. For example, several years ago the US State
Department declared that 75% of Mexico and Columbia's export
earnings come from drug trafficking.
In the current economic recession -- for impoverished nations
in the South just as for the growing ranks of impoverished
people in the USA -- drug dealing often seems to be the only
In Mexico, where I have worked with a villager-run health
program for the last 27 years, I have seen how this happens.
I have witnessed how poverty and exploitation drive poor farmers
to risk growing drugs in order to feed their children. I have
seen how the phoney War on Drugs has led to destruction of
families, corruption of officials, and brutal violence. Narcotics
control soldiers, armed and assisted by the US, have themselves
provided mountain villagers with opium poppy seed, and encouraged
them to plant. Then at harvest time the soldiers take their
cut from some of the growers and ruthlessly bust others. I
treated a man with broken ribs who had been beaten by the
soldiers because he had refused to grow drugs. We amputated
the hand of boy who was shot by the soldiers with a high velocity
bullet. Use of these explosive bullets -- apparently supplied
by the US for the drug control initiative -- is a violation
of the Geneva Convention.
Human rights abuses peaked during a time when the World Bank
made a forthcoming bale-out loan to Mexico contingent upon
more aggressive drug control efforts. Former US "Drug
Tzar" Bennett called for a "massive wave of arrests".
As a result, men and boys in mountain villages -- some of
them my friends -- were dragged from their beds at night,
then tortured and jailed on false charges of growing drugs.
This way the soldiers could meet their quota of arrests.
The US government vehemently condemns terrorism by the countries
it dislikes. But it is guilty of extremes of terrorism not
only to destabilize national liberation movements, but also
to prevent exposure of its own deep involvement in international
Do you remember 4 years ago (Dec. 21, 1988) when the White
House demanded United Nations sanctions against Libya for
blowing up Pan American Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland?
Well . . . Pan Am's insurance company -- faced with $10 billion
of claims for the passengers killed -- called for an independent
investigation. It found that Libyan terrorist were not responsible
for the bombing, but rather the CIA. For years the CIA had
been using Pan American airlines to courier heroine into the
US, with drop-offs in Detroit, St. Louis, Los Angeles and
New York. Flight 103 was carrying 8 CIA agents involved in
directing the drug traffic, and also a high-ranking operative
of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) who has been implicated
with Oliver North in the Iran-Contra arms-for-drugs deals.
What made Flight 103 exceptional, the investigation revealed,
was that these agents were coming back to the US unauthorized,
with intentions to blow the cover on the operation. An article
in The Toronto Star, titled "Pan American Bomb Linked
to Double-Dealing Drug Plot" states that, "The agents
became outraged when they discovered that the Central Intelligence
Agency operation in drugs and arms was going to be escalated.
One of the leaders of the group, Maj. Gen. Charles McKee,
had decided that it was time to expose the operation."
Appalling as it seems, apparently the US government -- to
stop its own agents from exposing government complicity in
the drug trade that it claims to be fighting -- blew up a
whole jumbo jet full of innocent passengers.
After reading the 27-page investigator's report, Pan American
Chairman Thomas Plaskett, said "You mean to tell me that
the Central Intelligence Agency has been using Pan American
planes to run drugs over a period of years, and I thought
I was running an airline!"
Unfortunately, the bombing of Pan AM 103 is probably not
an isolated incident. Events surrounding the mysterious crash
of the Gander flight, over Newfoundland, are remarkably similar.
The Gander plane was reportedly carrying members of the clandestine
RDS force, another drug smuggling operation of the US government.
According to Toronto's Sunday Star, the flight also carried
bodies of US operatives who had been killed after they had
been silenced for their role in the drug operations.
The financial magazine, Barrons, reporting on these events,
spells out the close links between the drug trade and big
business. It states, "The 'take' from the drug traffic
is approximately $500 billion annually, and these funds are
entirely integrated within the US banking system, processed
through Morgan Stanley, Chase Manhattan, Citibank, First National.
The $500 billion expresses itself in controlling shares in
major blue chip US corporations such as Ford Motor Company,
AT&T, General Electric. You cannot distinguish the operations
of the mob or the drug traffic from the normal workings of
finance capital in the United States."
Given this appalling scenario, what can be done to control
the "drug problem"? Trying to control it by strong-armed
force has clearly not worked. Today the jails both in drug-producing
and drug-consuming countries are full to bursting. Hundreds
of millions of dollars have been spent in police action and
military operations to curtail growing and dealing. The results
in terms of human suffering have been enormous, but in terms
of reducing drug production or use have been negligible.
One thing has become clear. Worsening social and economic
conditions aggravate the drug problem. As an example, when
Mexico went into its extreme dept crisis in 1982, not only
did drug growing and trafficking sharply increase, but the
government -- desperately in need of export earnings -- was
clearly less motivated to effectively combat the lucrative
drug trade. Indeed, during the mid-80s, the few remaining
signs of economic growth were the new 5-star hotels and discos
built with drug money.
Clearly, the debt crisis and economic recession which began
in the 1980s have done more to promote drug trafficking than
the ruthless War on Drugs has done to stop it. A major set-back,
which has pushed many more poor people into growing and dealing
drugs, has come from the structural adjustment policies of
the World Bank and IMF. These policies -- imposed on poor
countries to make sure they keep servicing their debts to
Northern banks -- have forced poor countries to cut back on
health, education and other public services, while reducing
the real value of worker's wages. In many countries, the earnings
of farmers and laborers have fallen so low they can no longer
feed their families. Hence the growing numbers of homeless
people, street children, and poverty-related crimes.
The impact of structural adjustment and other aspects of
so-called "free market policy" on the drug crisis
is in some countries quite evident. In Colombia the economy
depends on two export crops, coffee and cocaine. In 1989,
the US government -- consistent with its free market agenda
-- refused to renew the commercial agreement on coffee price
stabilization. As a result, coffee prices collapsed and Colombian
producers lost 52 cents on the dollar, with global losses
of $4 billion. The sharp fall in coffee prices continued through
1990 and 1991, and more and more coffee growers begin to cultivate
coca. The paltry amount of money the US government has put
into promotion of "alternative crops" is nothing
compared to the vast losses to the peasantry and labor force
caused by the economic and so-called development policies
imposed on them by today's global power structure.
Ironically, even in the world's wealthiest and most powerful
nation, the USA, the events exacerbating the "drug problem"
are very similar to those in the Third World. The numbers
of homeless people, street children, and poverty-related crimes
rise every day.
Indeed, the same sociopolitical and economic forces that
are widening the gap between rich and poor, both between countries
and within them, are at work right here in the United States.
Here, too, "structural adjustment" policies have
been applied similar to those imposed elsewhere. To sustain
our huge military budget and build our dominion as "cop
of the world", the White House has systematically gutted
public assistance programs, low-cost housing, and other benefits
for the poor. Over the past decade real earnings of working
people have steadily fallen. Taxes extracted from the poor
have risen, while those of the rich have been lowered. The
result for many is a deteriorating standard of living. Today
in the US, 1 of every 7 families, and 1 out of 5 children,
lives below the poverty line. Infant mortality in cities from
Washington DC to Oakland California is higher than that of
China or Jamaica. Nearly 40 million people in the US have
no form of health insurance, and daily 24 million people go
hungry. Racial minorities -- especially Afro-Americans and
Hispanics --- are systematically marginalized and scapegoated.
Rates of crime, violence, suicide, school drop-out, and police
brutality have soared. High-level corruption and disinformation
have become institutionalized.
Such a deteriorating situation leads to an increase of both
drug dealing and drug use. Is it realistic to try to control
the problem by pointing guns at poor farmers in poor countries?
Or by providing more policemen and more jails in the United
States? Neither approach gets to the root of the problem.
The peasant of Peru grows coca for the same reason that the
street pusher in the US peddles cocaine. Both have been marginalized
and deprived by a political and economic system that favors
the haves at the expense of the have-nots.
The War on Drugs is in reality a War on the Poor. In the United
States, as in the drug-producing countries, it is the little
guys rather than the big guys who are the primary target.
Many of the biggest drug dealers in the US have immunity from
the law. They include mafiosos or drug lords from the Golden
Triangle, Cuba, and elsewhere, who have collaborated with
US covert operations abroad. If they happen to get arrested
on drug charges, the police chief or judge soon gets a call
from the CIA or State Department, requesting that charges
be dropped for reasons of "national security."
But what kind of security does such action really provide
to a nation? It seems to me that the most intelligent first
step our nation could take -- for real security and to reduce
the drug problem -- would be to dissolve the Central Intelligence
Agency. Then maybe we could do something to stop the big guys
in the drug trade, and get off the backs of the little guys.
The American "way of life" -- which too often places
the greed of the strong before the needs of the weak -- is
rapidly becoming a global "way of life" by imposing
servitude to its "free market" world view. Yet for
increasing numbers it is becoming a "way of death."
The whole paradigm of the neoliberal New World Order needs
to be seriously questioned, not only in terms of resolving
the problem of drug abuse, but in terms of the quest for world
peace and the sustainability of the global environment and
ultimately of the human race.
It is becoming clearer that the American "way of life"
is not sustainable. Today we the people of these United States,
with 4% of the world population, consume 25% of the world's
energy and resources. But we consume 60% of the world's illegal
But why this hunger for drugs? What does it reflect about
our consumer-oriented culture? About the loneliness and alienation
from Nature of our compartmentalized lifestyle? How much real
sense of community is left? For all our talk about democracy
and people's participation, how much control do average citizens
have over their government, or over the decisions and events
that shape their lives? Why do nearly half of eligible voters
not vote? Who really elects our national leaders? The people?
Or the lobbies and PACs of giant industries: the weapons industry,
the oil industry, the tobacco industry, the pharmaceutical
industry ... and, of course, of the AMA? Why do we still not
have an equitable national health plan? In a nation as wealthy
as the United States, why is their so much poverty, hunger,
homelessness, crime, and desperation?
These are the questions that I think we need to tackle in
confronting the issue of misuse and abuse of drugs. It seems
to me that the question of legalization or illegalization
of drugs -- whether tobacco, alcohol, or the drugs that are
currently considered illicit -- is not the key issue. To overcome
the crises of our times -- the crises of poverty, environment,
militarization, and drugs -- we need to work toward a fairer,
more equitable, more compassionate world order. Resolution
of the drug problem is, in last analysis, not an issue of
crime and punishment but of social justice.
To say no to drugs, we must first say no to the social structures
that perpetuate inequality.