Has the War on Drugs Failed?

New study shows drugs are cheaper, easier to find

By: Katie Smith, Staff Writer

A new study published this week revealed that drugs are now cheaper and easier to find than ever, suggesting that the war on drugs has failed. According to the study, there have been noteworthy increases in the circulation of marijuana, cocaine, and heroin worldwide over the two-decade period in question.

There has also been a major drop in price for many drugs, most notably heroin and cocaine. According to a table compiled by the United Nations, between the years 1990 and 2010 the street price for cocaine dropped from 146€ to 40€ ($117 to $82 U.S.) on average per gram. Heroin followed a similar path; its price dropped from 216€ to 51€ ($173 to $68 U.S.) on average per gram.

The recent study, published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) Open, examined drug supplies to a number of areas across the globe and found that, with a few exceptions, the price of illegal drugs generally decreased worldwide.

According to study co-author Dr. Evan Wood, the Scientific Chair of the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy and Canada Research Chair in Inner City Medicine at the University of British Columbia, these findings indicate that the global war on drugs has not been as successful as previously thought.

“These findings add to the growing body of evidence that the war on drugs has failed,” he said in a press release posted on the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy’s (ICSDP) website.

“We should look to implement policies that place community health and safety at the forefront of our efforts, and consider drug use a public health issue rather than a criminal justice issue. With the recognition that efforts to reduce drug supply are unlikely to be successful, there is a clear need to scale up addiction treatment and other strategies that can effectively reduce drug-related harm.”

While recent studies have shown that the war on drugs is not as effective as previously thought, there has been a large stride recently in the war on drugs in the United States. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) shut down a website this Wednesday which distributed everything from drugs to guns. The website, called the Silk Road, was entirely confidential and run by 29-year-old Ross William Ulbricht. It also had about 950,000 members at the time of its seizure.

Along with the closing of the website, which was reportedly worth an estimated $1.2 billion, many small-time dealers who utilized the site to grow their businesses, buyers, and sources for the drugs will be arrested.  Although the seizure of the Silk Road website is a major step in preventing volatile recreational drugs from widespread use, the study conducted by researchers from the ICSDP proves that it is still extremely easy for people to procure whatever drug they want.

While most drugs are illegal in many countries, studies like the ICSDP’s raise the question: what is the most sensible drug policy? Ten years ago, Portugal decriminalized all drugs—a decision believed to have cut countrywide drug abuse in half—yet in this study, countries with zero-tolerance or highly restrictive drug policies, like Sweden, showed similar results in drug use.

Although the current war on drugs may have failed, the study authors note that there are a number of measures that may be more effective in preventing drug abuse and trafficking. The study authors conclude that the future of the war on drugs must re-examine how drug strategy effectiveness is measured, focusing less on drug seizures and placing more emphasis on health indicators such as HIV and hepatitis C rates in drug users.

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