PanAm Podcast: The War on Drugs Has Failed: Interdiction Won’t Solve Fentanyl Epidemic

The latest front on the War on Drugs involves the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl, which has left a wake of death and destruction as it has spread through urban America. 50 times more powerful than heroin, the bulk of it is manufactured in China, and makes it way to Mexico via plane or cargo ship where it is distributed by Mexican drug cartels.

In Baltimore’s troubled low-income neighborhoods, overdoses have become such a problem that the city has made an app to warn potential users of parts of the city where lethally potent fentanyl is being sold. Consider that in the state of Maryland, fentanyl-related deaths jumped from 186 in 2014 to 1,100 in 2016. The Baltimore Sun recently ran a feature story on the frighteningly powerful narcotic, which has local authorities at their wit’s end.

Predictably, politicians of both parties are calling for a government response; another battle in the “War on Drugs” if you will. They seek to crack down on the supply through the usual tactics: undercover operations, snitches, raids, busts…using all manner of technology from electronic surveillance to speedboats and helicopters to assault-rifle armed SWAT teams.

But will reducing the supply have a real impact on the Drug War if we as a nation are powerless to control the demand? No, it will not. What it will do, however, is keep the price of fentanyl and other narcotics artificially high, necessitating that drug addicts turn to economic crimes such as burglary, shoplifting, carjacking, armed robbery, to fuel their addictions.

We as a nation appear to have learned little from our decade long experiment with alcohol prohibition nearly a century ago. It is high time that we treat drug abuse as a public health issue, not a criminal justice issue.

Although I’m a devout libertarian, and generally opposed to government regulation, I can live with a government that regulates, controls, and taxes drug sales: that way drug users can be assured of the potency of the product they are buying, and taxes levied on such drugs can be used to defray the cost of treatment programs and healthcare spending. Such a plan would also remove a source of funding from murderous drug cartels, who are often aligned with unsavory groups such as terrorist organizations.

Ultimately, the government can continue its quixotic “War on Drugs” at its own peril; but it is a fool’s errand. We have not won a single battle in the War on Drugs since its inception two generations ago.

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