Give Away Drugs?

I was recently surprised to read a headline that claimed that, "Ricardo Salinas proposes giving away drugs." Those of us who produce television sometimes are accused of oversimplification and superficiality. I wonder then if this headline isn't the most simplistic, superficial and irresponsible of them all, as it is a symptom of the poverty of analysis and the lack of vision shown by some publications with the aim of selling more newspapers.

Readers of my blog and those who have attended my lectures know that I have often voiced the need to consider a change of strategy in the fight against drugs. The current approach to eradicate the production, distribution, and consumption of drugs is not working because it ignores the economic forces at play. I ask: where are the economists, these supposed experts in supply and demand? Their silence is very convenient.

Stop the madness
Although we will never know for sure, it is estimated that the value of the drug market in the United States is over U.S. $60 billion. We're dealing with a brutal trade fueled by consumers with insatiable demand willing to pay any price -- completely inelastic the economists would say, if they talked about the issue.

After four decades of the "war on drugs," the results are very poor. There has been no reduction in production or consumption and instead we have seen a spiral of violence and corruption that seriously jeopardizes the stability of Latin America.

It is imperative to change the focus. Let's remember the definition of insanity that is often attributed to Albert Einstein: "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." The results of the current policy are absolutely disastrous.

A proposal that has been discussed recently is to legalize the production, distribution, and consumption of drugs. Although this approach may be interesting from an economic point of view, personally I do not like the idea that hard drugs be sold like any other consumer product.

Another alternative, which I understand has been tested in other countries such as the United Kingdom, is simply to provide these substances without cost to those who suffer from addictions. This should be done by health care professionals, in clinics subsidized by the government. This involves attacking the problem for what it is, a serious public health issue.

Under this policy, specialized medical personnel would have to screen patients, measure their level of addiction, and gradually modify the dose and the active substances so that after a few months, patients can control their addiction.

In addition to the natural benefits of directly attacking the health problems related to drug consumption, the great economic advantage of this alternative is that immediately the demand, the market, and the economic incentive to commit crime disappears. The money to buy weapons, police, judges, and everything that corrupts our society dwindles. Who can be against this?

Although in principle this option seems attractive, I'm very interested in hearing from those who are knowledgeable about the complex issue of addictions. I understand that today experimentation is underway with various neurotransmitters that mimic the effects of hard drugs in the brain, without causing such damage that is so harmful to the body. Unfortunately, we are still far from a "vaccine against drugs."

Another option, quite irresponsible, would be to simply do nothing, as is occurring in the countries where drugs are most consumed and trafficking and consumption in public places where drugs are within the reach of children are tolerated.

Like any citizen and parent, this issue concerns me and it bothers me very much that the lack of imagination, and the hypocrisy of some governments and commentators do not allow us to openly discuss lasting solutions to this terrible problem.

The bottom line is to ask ourselves and seriously discuss whether what we are doing is right. We should evaluate all the alternatives and implement the best public policies. Let's think about this because today, more than ever, the future of Latin America is at stake.