Collateral Damage in War on Drugs

(I post this in Great Debates because of the implied but debatable contention that the US should surrender in its war on drugs. (The drugs won))

Timothy McVeigh has said that the children who were killed in OKC were “collateral damage” in his insane war on the US government.

Yesterday, a woman and her child were killed by a Peruvian air force plane in South America. Were they merely “collateral damage” in the insane US war on drugs?

McVeigh gets the death penalty, but our impossible, unethical, unwinnable war on drugs continues; and the leaders of this criminal “war” remain unpunished.

Slaughter a hundred people in a single blast, it’s mass murder.

Slaughter thousands of people over several decades, it’s policy.

I completely disagree with your premise…I don’t think it’s debatable. Unless, of course, you think there’s something totally natural about horrific injustice (don’t laugh, there were a lot of people at my high school who thought exactly that). IMHO, it’s debatable whether creating zoned-out junkies is really worse than the neverending madness of this worthless war.

Well, let’s not forget the Peruvian Air Force is claiming the pilot of the plane shot down did not respond to radio commands to identify himself. Well, he did but after he got shot and landed.

And that, I think, is the justification people use for the War on (some) Drugs nonsense. They think The Gubbermint is somehow “responsible” for the existence of junkies, when it is nothing of the sort. Junkies create themselves.

And the only legitimate purpose of Government is to protect fundamental rights, and I believe a person has the right to be a fuckup if that’s what he wants.

In short: The War on (some) Drugs sucks. It’s immoral, it’s unwinnable, and it needs to stop.

Catholic nuns and priests were killed in El Salvador & Guatemala - not to mention left-sympathizing Americans - during the 80’s by right-wing forces trained by US… Anticommunism realpolitik won, and no one at 1600 Pennsylvania gave a hoot.

I’m curious to see if this latest incident changes things a bit, now that [more-or-less] right-wing Americans were, unfortunately, killed by the Peruvian Air Force - who, we haven’t pointed out yet, are as trained and subsidized by the US as can be. Any more and they’d be part of the US military.

No matter what folk may say about personal freedom, about being allowed to screw up your own life, this is not a cost free option for society.

Imagine drugs are cheap legal and pure, will heroin overdoses kill, will cocaine destroy mucous membranes, opiates destroy teeth and minds ? Of course they will.

In short will there be any remission from the negative effects of drug? Hardly,- as drug use expands so the scale illnesses that they cause expands, and it is of a totally differant order than say alchohol which does enough harm when misused.

Apologists say that many of the negative effects of drugs are caused by dint of their illegality and there is no doubt that this does exacerbate the problems, but don’t let that mask the fact that even those who can afford whatever they want at the highest quality still end up in the headline obituaries depressingly regularly.

You do not have the right to screw up as much and as big as you want if someone else has to pick up the tab, wether it’s your spouse, parents or children, if that’s a genuine belief then why not go to an island all on your own and screw up beyond the reach of the law(sorry if that sounds rather strong it isn’t meant to be)

I would not justify the loss of the lives of innocents as collateral damage, or whatever offensive euphemism is current, crap like this goes on all the time (and far worse) and no-one is prepared to accept responability.
So we give up in our attempts to keep a stable society because of a tragedy ? I think not, on that level we would never have tried to sail around the world in tiny wooden ships etc etc. We have to learn by our mistakes and do better next time.

What I do see are plenty of prisoners who are in pretty apalling sates of health because of their addiction, truth is, if it were not for jail many would likely be dead but not before they had harmed society further.

Around 2/3rds of prisoners in UK jails are in there for drug related or drug motivated crimes and the healthcare cost for them is astronomic.Prisoners healthcare provision is such that they are classed as elderly(60 or over in a control population) when they reach 50.(there are cites available for this if you really must)
In terms of health of prisoners is 10 to 15 years less healthy than Joe Soap, that is the scale of damage that drugs do, but its the taxpayer who picks up the tab.

Alcohol is responsible for untold amounts of misery for millions of people, does it make sense to add more chemicals and far more powerful ones to the litany of human frailty ?

I personally think that the limits are drawn too tightly, cannabis cannot be considered in the same league as other drugs, and yet the misuse of antibiotics genuinely does threaten us all but these are widely available in certain countries without a medical specialists intervention.

and the current system is cost-free?? 2 million in jail [in america]. rollback of constitution freedom??

what drugs, legal or illegal, have the greatest number of direct drug-use deaths?? and the greatest healthcare costs??

alcohol and tobacco. are you proposing or supporting prohibition of those drugs?? if not, why not?? it would be consistent.

as this matters why??

actually you do apparently have the right to screw up big time. but only in certain ways and with certain substances.

drug prohibition is not bringing us a stable society.

you do not ban something for everyone because it is bad for a few people. otherwise alcohol would certainly have to be banned.

let em out of jail, and let them work and pay taxes and support the system, instead of being a drag on the system.

has the illegality of these drugs led to disuse of them?? has the billions spent annualy done anything but waste taxpayer dollars?? lets stop spending to interdict drugs, and to house people capable of being productive, and collect tax revenue on the sales of drugs, and the labor of drug users.

and back to that personal freedom thingy. no matter what government may think, we are each responsible for and free to do with our bodies and minds as we see fit. we are not slaves, we do not owe the government allegence or obedience.

I would agree that the war metaphor is inappropriate: I seriously doubt whether drugs are ever going to be eliminated from Western society.

I also believe that use of heroin and cocaine tends to produce its own “collateral damage” and that the wider society tends to pick up the tab.

I am concerned that the US has about 2 million people in its jails, up from 1.5 mill in 1990 and .5 mill in 1980. IIRC, most of these are in jail on non-violent drug charges. What share are marijuana users/dealers is unclear to me.

Website of the Harm Reduction Coalition and the Drug Policy Foundation

Never said that your current system was cost free, that’s just putting words into my mouth,its a balancing act, how much are you prepared to pay to be safe on your streets ?
The reduction in the US murder rate and serious offending rate over the last two years has many other nations taking a long hard look at the US system, many are wondering what price personal liberty against that of the safety of the whole population, we in the UK are adopting the 3 strikes rule, I can tell you now that many prisoners fear it.

I take it you don’t know many drug addicts then, I have rarely met an addict with the skills or the will to do this, would you be prepared to hire a thief to work in your family shop, would you trust a spaced out junkie to operate anything more lethal than a stapler ? Would you even expect a junkie to get out of bed to go to work every day ?
I employ 30 of them, for less than 6 hours a day, and they still have to be thrown off the accommodation units, threatened, cajoled offered an extra addition to their jail terms and yet still they can’t be bothered to walk the twenty or thirty yards to their workplace.

It’s cheaper to keep them in jail than to let them destroy society are you suggesting that those 2million prisoners should be released and that this would improve US society ?


Apologists say that many of the negative effects of drugs are caused by dint of their illegality and there is no doubt that this does exacerbate the problems, but don’t let that mask the fact that even those who can afford whatever they want at the highest quality still end up in the headline obituaries depressingly regularly.

as this matters why??

The reason it matters is that money is no object to these people, they can buy the best quality of drugs, and can afford the treatment, yet for all their wealth they still end up on the morticians slab, yet some still try to claim that the damage an addict suffers comes more from what drugs are cut with, than from the drugs thenselves.
Do you suppose for one moment that when Joe Soap needs treatment that the state will be able to spend anything like the amounts per head that the wealthy Superstar does ?

Anyway, using the example of tobacco and alchohol is not relevant at all, if you want to argue the case for legalisation of hard drugs then those arguments must stand up on their own merits, merely saying that another drug is harmful does not justify the use of yet more harmful drugs.

Do you think that adding more chemicals to the bloodstream is going to make society more or less stable, hmm that is not a difficult question to me.

Personal freedom, but what about personal responsibility ?

When you abrogate every responsibility to your children, your spouse to society, do you think that you deserve personal freedom, this comes at a price, as for owing the government allegience, I hear that loads from folk who do not vote, who complain about ‘the man’ ‘the system’ yet what a farce the US presidential elections became partly because so many decided not to bother voting, I see local elections in the UK where the turnout is less than 20% and yet people complain that government does nothing for them.
Why should it ?

You admit that drug laws exacerbate problems caused by drugs, yet you refuse to consider the radically different nature of licit and illicit drugs when deciding whether or not drugs should be criminalized.

Boy, going over your posts, I’m not even sure where to begin. . .

. . . but this is a good place. Like I said, you seem to assume that the negative effects of illicit drugs are inherent in the drugs themselves.

Were heroin cheap, legal and pure, heroin overdoses would likely plummet (though not disappear, naturally). Black market heroin is (depending on who you listen to and when the study was done), on average, about 5-10% heroin (10% being a very generous number). The rest tends to be an amphetamine mix that is much easier to overdose on, and is much more damaging physically.

Will (other) opiates destroy teeth and minds? Hardly, since they don’t even do that now. Unlike, say, alcohol, opiates don’t destroy one’s internal organs. The opiate addict, under his requisite dose, is a well man. Opiates are, of course, extremely addictive, and to think that making heroin dangerous or illegal will deter an addict from buying heroin is pure folly.

My knowledge of the effects of snorted cocaine is relatively small, but I’ve never heard of it destroying mucous membranes. I’ll take your word for it, but since I’ve never heard of it I can’t imagine that it’s a serious or widespread problem. In any event, criminalization makes cocaine more dangerous than it would otherwise be.

It’s statements like this that make me think that we’ll never find a common ground. So I’ll start small.

  1. On a personal level, drug use is likely to have harmful consequences, agreed? Depending on the drug, a user risks addiction, lung cancer, cirrhosis (arg, sp?), impaired driving, apathy, etc.

  2. Criminalization of drugs makes them more dangerous, agreed? Now, one is risking contact with seriously adulterated drugs, unregulated and potentially violent proprietors of drugs in the black market, artificially expensive and addictive drugs (and hence an addiction that the addict may not be able to afford), social and professional stigma (e.g. your categorization of addicts as “junkies”), and (worst of all) prison.

  3. I would argue that the good to be done by decriminalization, even tempered with the potential (though not certain) rise is drug use, is more than enough to warrant said criminalization. You seem to think that legalizing drugs would “destroy society.” I have seen absolutely nothing to suggest that this is the case. Society got on just fine when heroin and cocaine were legal. See U.S. history pre-Harrison Narcotics Act of 1914 (though, again, I’m not as up on the history of cocaine regulation as I should be). Legal heroin, or heroin by prescription, (or other opiates, e.g. opium), did not constitute a significant social problem. Illicit heroin has proven to be another story entirely.

  4. Are you in favor of alcohol prohibition? If so, then how can you account for the fact that it was an utter failure (alcoholism rates actually rose)? If not, than why must modern illicit drugs be treated in a fundamentally different manner? You’d have a hard time showing them to be more dangerous (personally as well as socially) than alcohol. I suspect that the main difference, for you, is that alcohol is a known quantity whereas many illicit drugs are a total mystery.

We’ll start from here and work our way out.

The collateral damage of the War on Drugs isn’t limited to prison sentences, murders, and people turning to “real” crime to support this “victimless” crime.

There is also the staggering problem of people’s personal property being seized and forfeited in a drug bust. This encourages police departments to plant false evidence, lie on the stand, or just plain arrest people without cause – simply to get at the accused’s houses, cars, and bank accounts. What’s sickest about this is that your property can be seized, and the proceeds doled out to the agency that made the arrest, without obtaining a conviction for any crime; some law-enforcement departments have been known to arrest someone on drug charges, take everything that person owns, and then drop the charges and keep the person’s property.
I’ve heard it’s worse in some South American countries – you can be locked in jail just because someone said you were a drug dealer, and you have to prove your innocence before they’ll set you free.

Chasing the Dragon damages the enamel on your teeth.Cocaine does destroy mucous membranes, never heard of cocaine bug, which is another effect ? Amphetamine psychosis?. Mental health problems are greater amongst users of certain drugs than those who do not.

Hope I cleared that up for you Varlos but if you did not know about what Heroin or Cocaine do then you should check around the net, there are plenty of sites available.

My knowledge comes from talking and working with addicts and from the information given me in training seesions from drug counsellors.

I’ll use UK prices but to obtain the US figure just multiply by the current excahnge rate which is about $1.6 to £ sterling.

Realistic cost of habits.

Heroin, around £100 to £150 per day but it can extend to £250 per day.

Cocaine from £100 per day but can easily go beyond £500 per day.

Crack cocaine starts about £150 per day but it’s entirely possible to do that in around an hour, £500 per day is not that unusual.

Amphetamine, can be very low just £20-30 a week for the Saturday night clubber but that can easily get out of control to the more extreme end of £200 per day.

Making drugs legal, you would accept, would cause prices to fall, but this has already happened, drugs have never been cheaper or of such high quality(relatively speaking) and yet drug use has exploded.

Unless the state licenses dealers and excercises price and standards controls there is no reason why the price of drugs should fall all that much, after all why undercut yourself when you can rake in more profit ?

In the event all that would happen is that the habits would get larger, drug habits expand to consume the resources available to fuel them, if it’s cheaper then the addict will simply take more and the total cost of the habit will remain the same.

How low would prices have to fall to be affordable for addicts to maintain themselves, well divide all those figures I gave you by say ten, how many folk could realistically afford a larger habit at those prices ? Lower still ? Maybe but remember that more drugs will be consumed and as demand rises so the price will stabilise.

In the UK we used to have a system whereby Heroin users could obtain pharmaceutical grade drugs for their own consumption having been notified by medical staff. Users did not need to fund their habit by dealing and established dealers found it relatively unprofitable.

Heroin was fairly well controlled, the average user was well into their 20’s.

During the 80’s there was a policy change and heroin was no longer scripted, instead methodone was prescribed and there had to be a commitment to kick the habit. We were warned by some drug workers in the US about the likely consequencies but it was part of an overall policy to be seen to be tough on crime.
Demand for illicit heroin rose dramatically, so did the price and suddenly dealers were everywhere, often trying to maintain their own habits.
Result is that we now have children as young as 11 or 12 dealing drugs.

The lesson is clear, create a demand and the problem will escalate, I doubt that legalisation will reduce demand.

I believe there was a US input into this disastrous policy decision for when Australia decided it was going to grow its own opium poppies and maintain existing addicts the US threatened trade tariffs on the one hand and, on the other, offered subsidy for production of heroin provided it was only for medical use and strictly controlled.

Each drug has its own dynamic, what might control heroin probably will not work with Cocaine.

Safe drug use might come with informed choice but addiction is not all that logical, and I would have thought that there would be an age limit, as with alchohol, on their use.

The differance between alchohol and tobacco to hard drugs is that the potential is there to do serious damage to the vulnerable in a far shorter period, a few illicit underage bottles of beer is not likely to kill a child and is not likely to create a lifelong user, though of course it can, just a few blasts of crack can, and it does not take many toots of heroin before withdrawal becomes less attractive than continuation.

Ask any reformed drug user what their opinion is of legalised drug use, as I did today, answer - " Well even without jail I wouldn’t want to think my kids…"

I’ll leave it there for replies else I’ll just get boring.

First, I hold no brief for drugs or drug users, both are despicable. However, treating drug users as criminals has flooded our prisons, exacerbated racial tensions, and done nothing to alleviate the problem. We need to approach the problem of drug addiction as a public health issue, not a war. The war metaphor doesn’t really work when the enemy is us.

Second, sending US troops to eliminate the production of cocaine is fruitless as long as the demand exists for it. As long as there is profit to be made from cocaine, someone will step up to supply it. You have to find a way of cutting down the customer base to hurt the dealers.

And to all you Dopers who are dopers, you’re part of the problem. Your money goes to real murderers and truly evil people. I mean, how evil do you have to be to sell a product that enslaves the body and mind?

I use both alcohol and caffeine (more the latter than the former). I don’t use marijuana, but even if I did I don’t think that I would be despicable.

As for heroin and cocaine users, I believe I would characterize them as “foolish”. I also believe that they support a form of commerce that perpetuates poverty, undermines democracy and supports organized crime.

But perhaps I’m picking at nits; policywise, goboy and I probably aren’t too far apart.


At what are the cost of keeping drugs illegal? In the early part of the 20th century we thought the cost of making alcohol illegal would outweigh the cost of keeping in legal. Seems to me we dropped the ball on that one. The cost we currently have is a higher rate of violent crime, the cost of imprisonment, and the erosion of our rights as well as the respect people had in law enforcement.


Sure, just like people still get throat and lung cancer plus liver and brain damage from the legal drugs we have now. But dangerous alcohol was a bigger problem during prohibition then it was now. When was the last time you had some liquor and worried that it might be cut with wood alcohol?


I don’t know about that. We seem to have plenty of functional alcholics in this country I fail to see why people addicted to other drugs couldn’t function. Imagine if they were able to get their drugs in a timely fashion for a reasonable price. I wonder how many of them would have to turn to crime in order to fuel their habits? I’m sure you’d still see junkies, maybe just as many, but maybe not.


Apologist. Heh heh heh. Take a look at the war on drugs for the past 80 years or so. Then come and tell me why we should keep it up since it is obviously a failure.


Stable society? When was the last time in our history that young men with guns went on drive by shootings? Oh yeah, during prohibition. I don’t see the war on drugs introducing any stability to our society.


What good does prison do them? I hate to break it to you but in the United States drugs are smuggled in all the time.

Any way if you can provide me with any evidence that the war on drugs has done any good please let me know. After doing some thinking and research on this subject I think its safe to say that it has been a monumental failure and is resonsible for more misery then the thing it was fighting in the first place.