Despite continued calls for a ceasefire, the war on drugs is still escalating across the world. In the Philippines, for instance, the ultra-strict approach adopted by new president Rodrigo Duterte has resulted in the execution of more than 2,500 people for drug-related activities in the past two months alone. Meanwhile, the UK recently introduced a draconian new law banning all psychoactive substances, while government officials also took the highly controversial step of closing down one of London’s most famous nightclubs following the deaths of two young party-goers.
One definition of insanity is repeating the same actions and expecting a different outcome, which is why an ever-increasing number of drug policy activists are labelling this zero-tolerance stance as madness. In its place, they call for an evidence-based approach to the global drugs issue, built upon facts and rationality rather than ideology.
Critics say the war on drugs increases crime and violence by placing control of drugs markets in the hands of cartels and street dealers. swa182/Shutterstock
The war on drugs is not reducing drug-related deaths
The UN first launched its war on drugs back in 1961, before renewing its commitment to wiping narcotics off the face of the Earth in 1998. Yet despite the unimaginable sums of money spent on this campaign, levels of drug use – and, more importantly, the dangers associated with this drug use – have not been curbed.
A report released this month by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) in the UK reveals that the number of deaths caused by drug misuse rose for a third successive year in 2015, reaching an all-time high at 43.8 deaths per million people. Of these, 67 percent involved illegal drugs, with opioids such as heroin and morphine being responsible for almost half of these fatal incidents.
Niamh Eastwood, executive director of drug policy reform charity Release, responded to this report by blaming many of these deaths on the British government’s hardline approach, which she says “goes against all the evidence for best practice in drug treatment, and is contributing, we believe, to this shameful rise in deaths.”
For instance, she points to the fact that the criminalization of opioid drugs prevents many addicts from being able to seek treatments like opioid substitution therapy, whereby synthetic drugs like methadone are supplied in place of heroin, allowing users to bypass the minefield of impurity-riddled street drugs.