Gluttony: High All Over the World

Drug use has become a major global concern over the past several years

By: Fernando Arce

Pills spilling from a container

Via melloveschallah, flickr

Lighting a joint, popping a pill or snorting a line can no longer be viewed as something personal.  For a while, the use of drugs became something entwined with the “hippie” culture, and an entire generation grew up believing they could buy peace of mind for $2 dollars a hit.  It simply was part of the culture.However, drug use is no longer the same. For the most part, it is viewed negatively. But more importantly, the global consequences of drug use have reached such staggering heights that it has become hard to ignore it.

The drug trade business has officially reached a global dimension and it amasses more than $400 billion a year. More alarmingly, marijuana is no longer the drug that crosses all boundaries: the three main transnational drugs to circulate the markets are heroin, cocaine, and amphetamine-like substances, according to a UN’s Office on Drugs and Crime Report.


The heroin market in Europe has become so profitable that it is equivalent to the “combined GDP of the former Yugoslavia, Albania and Kosovo/Serbia” at 20 billion U.S. dollars.

[/pullquote]The implications of such facts are many and each more worrisome than the other. For starters, there are obvious health effects linked with the use of drugs.

In 22 European countries, according to the UN’s report, 35%-100% of drug-related deaths are the result of opiates – not to mention the other diseases associated with drug use, such as Hepatitis B, C, and HIV, among the most prominent ones.

Then there are deeper, societal implications stemming from the fact that drug-use is becoming increasingly more socially acceptable.

For instance, the fact that it is, as many claim, a market itself, means that power, too, can be accumulated. For example, the heroin market in Europe has become so profitable that it is equivalent to the “combined GDP of the former Yugoslavia, Albania and Kosovo/Serbia” at 20 billion U.S. dollars.  As the UN report suggests, this phenomenon “represents a threat to state authority, economic development and rule of law” around the world.

There are many factors that facilitate the circulation of drugs around the world, most of them being part of the neo-liberal economic trends of market liberalization and globalization.

For example, the International Association of Ports and Harbours expects that container traffic will double by 2012, compared with 1999 figures. This means around 220 million sea containers will be traveling the oceans with around 90% of the world`s merchandise. Included in many of these containers, which are impossible to fully monitor given their magnitude, will certainly be loads and loads of pills, powders, uppers and downers.

Though many advocate for more international cooperation amongst regulatory bodies and governments as the “pillar of global counter-narcotics strategy”, one must carefully assess whether the globally waged “war on drugs” has had any effect.

Indeed, many are of the opinion that the prohibitionist policies “simply haven’t worked”, and have instead cost tax payers an immense amount of money. In the US, the bill for the war on drugs has run past the $13 billion mark.

Instead, what some are proposing, like three journalists in the Wall Street Journal, is to first “shatter the taboos that inhibit public debate about drugs in our societies”. Then, echoing suggestions around the world, they state that it is imperative to “reduce demand for drugs in the main consumer countries….[by] differentiat[ing] among illicit substances according to the harm they inflict on people’s health, and the harm drugs cause to the social fabric.” Fear mongering and demonizing drugs have not worked so far; perhaps, we should begin to listen to alternative views.

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