To get your mind around just how dumb and perverse are our drug policies, you first have to absorb these astounding facts:
- The U.S. has more deaths from drug overdoses than from car accidents.
- Most are due to prescription narcotics, not street drugs.
- Heroin deaths have also doubled in the past two years because patients first hooked on prescription narcotics often have to switch to cheaper street drugs.
- States that have legalized medical marijuana have many fewer prescription narcotic overdoses than those that haven't.
- Prescription narcotics are gateway drugs creating a new demographic of drug addiction -- older, whiter, suburban, and more female.
- The Sackler family is famous and widely admired for its museum philanthropy; but is also infamous and deserves to be widely despised for its irresponsible drug pushing. Their drug company has been fined more than600 million for its criminal marketing of narcotics. Its pills cause more overdoses than any drug cartel.
- Careless, sometimes criminal, MDs serve the same role for drug companies as corner pushers serve for drug cartels. Just one doctor in California was responsible for 400 emergency room visits.
Solutions are simple. Tighten the screws on the drug companies that make the pills that addict and kill people. Re-educate well meaning doctors and strongly discipline the crooks. Educate patients that those magic pills can destroy their lives. Develop a real-time computerized pharmacy control system that prevents patients from filling multiple prescriptions. Legalize pot, a much less dangerous drug than prescription narcotics.
We are fighting the wrong war on drugs.
The last 40 years prove conclusively that interdiction can't possibly win the war against the cartels. Illegal drugs are more available, stronger, and cheaper than ever. We have encouraged lawlessness and civil strife in every drug-producing nation. And we have cruelly and uselessly filled our prisons with people who might otherwise have had productive lives. The key to containing the cartels is to reduce demand for their products by legalization and by providing easy access to treatment and rehabilitation. The big losers if pot is legalized will be the drug cartels and the drug companies.
We couldn't possibly lose a battle to control Big Pharma -- if only our politicians and bureaucrats had the political will to engage in the fight. Big Pharma controls Washington now the way Big Tobacco did 25 years ago. Despite its lobbying billions, Big Tobacco lost its power when its behavior could no longer pass the political smell test. Isn't it past time that Pharma got the same treatment?
How can politicians face their consciences and constituents sitting back while drug companies cause more deaths than drug cartels?
Allen Frances is a professor emeritus at Duke University and was the chairman of the DSM-IV task force.