Addiction

The worldwide war on drugs is not going well. It is taking far longer than World Wars I and II combined. And not enough of the bad guys are losing.

At the UN, three days of speechmaking and behind-scenes discussion of the drug war should help nations review the logic of their antidrug campaigns. Much of that logic is earnest but unsuccessful. It does not concentrate nearly enough on preventing addiction in drug-consuming societies.

That involves nothing less than changing thinking in millions of individuals. It is akin to the Vietnam War's never quite implemented plan to win the hearts and minds of people in the battle zone.

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The brief UN drug parley has not resolved long-running debate over: (1) Attack (cutting supply by destroying narcotic plants and subsidizing other crops, tracking shipments, arresting kingpins and street dealers) versus (2) defense (educating youth and treating addiction) versus (3) decriminalization (needle exchanges, methadone clinics, controlled legality).

Advocates of point 3 have mounted a campaign, funded largely by financier George Soros. Enlisted are many distinguished leaders - liberals, conservatives, and drug treatment professionals. They raise thoughtful doubts about focusing too exclusively on attack. But, alas, their prescription, decriminalization (read controlled legalization), is itself flawed.

As today's great tobacco struggle shows, a legal addictive substance in private-sector hands confers huge money power to sway opinion and subvert opposition. An alternative urged by decriminalizers is government supervision. But that makes the end solution, changing minds, especially those of children, all the more difficult. Government can't be both an effective rival to pushers and a credible evangelist for non-use of drugs.

Most citizens know why nations battle the $400 billion illicit drug industry.

Drugs ruin lives. They spawn violent crime. They corrupt some officials. They divert resources from solving other serious problems, waste billions in the workplace, and sidetrack army and police units. They jam court dockets and overcrowd prisons. And they distort finance via money laundering.

All causes for action.

But there is one more huge, little- noted cost of drugs. That is the pernicious impact they have on world thinking about addiction. Millions of people have been subtly persuaded that addictions of various kinds are beyond individuals' control. This has two bad effects. It undermines all-out support for efforts to end demand for drugs through effective treatment and deep-felt prevention programs among children. And it reinforces society's overdependence on legal drugs, alcohol, overeating, etc. People who say 'They can't help it' or 'I can't help it' provide an excuse not to take full command of their own lives.

That is the insidious argument to defeat if the war on drugs is to be won.

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