Column: Put the war on drugs out of its misery

  • Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis listens during a campaign event at the Permian Deep Rock Oil Company site on Sept. 20, 2023, in Midland, Texas. Gov. DeSantis unveiled future plans on energy policy, climate change ideology and gas production if he is elected president in 2024. (Brandon Bell/Getty Images/TNS) Getty Images/TNS — Brandon Bell

  • Contributor Wayne Gersen in West Lebanon, N.H., on April 12, 2019. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Geoff Hansen

For the Valley News
Published: 10/2/2023 12:34:37 PM
Modified: 10/2/2023 12:33:37 PM

Despite my efforts to squelch unwelcome correspondence from Ron DeSantis’ campaign, I continue to receive his glossy mailers. One side of his latest missive boasts that unlike his predecessors, Ron DeSantis would be willing to pull the trigger on Mexican drug cartels that are “killing our people and wiping out entire communities.” The other side of the mailer shows a thermal image of three shadowy figures crossing a barren landscape with the caption “When these drug pushers are bringing fentanyl across the border, we’re gonna leave them stone cold dead.”

Mr. DeSantis is not the only GOP candidate who wants to take the “War on Drugs” paradigm literally for a reason. The Washington Post reported that an NBC News poll released in June found 55% of all voters and 86% of Republican primary voters said they would be more likely to back a candidate who “supports deploying the U.S. military to the Mexican border to stop illegal drugs from entering the country.” Those who support an invasion of Mexico or the tactical bombing of drug labs operated by cartels cling to the idea that we can put an end to the drug problem if we just wipe out “the pushers.” Unfortunately, it isn’t that easy. The increase in the use of fentanyl illustrates how drug trafficking is more complicated than “pulling the trigger” on pushers.

Fentanyl is a particularly difficult drug to eliminate for several reasons.

First, as a Brookings Institution report earlier this year noted, fentanyl production is simple and cheap and it can be easily derived from “precursors,” legal chemicals widely used in the chemical, agricultural and pharmaceutical industries for legitimate purposes.

Second, according to the DEA, “Mexican cartels” are not the root source of the fentanyl; China is. China provides the cartel labs with widely used and legitimate precursor drugs that they can readily convert to fentanyl.

Third, because of its extraordinary weight-per-potency ratio, fentanyl is much easier to smuggle. As reported in an April Scientific American opinion piece by Jonathan Caulkins and Peter Reuter, “The bipartisan, bicameral and multiagency Commission on Combatting Synthetic Opioid Trafficking noted that all the fentanyl consumed in the U.S. each year ‘could easily fit into a shipping container or a truck trailer, which seriously challenges interdiction.’ ”

Fourth, the cartels are often deeply embedded in the communities. As reported earlier this month in the Washington Post, Falko Ernst, a Mexico analyst for the International Crisis Group, cautioned those who advocate attacks on the cartels are mistaken if they believe the cartels are “a clearly delineated threat (that) stands apart from the rest of society, politics and the economy, one that can be surgically removed, a cancer-like growth in the body.” Ernst’s terse analysis: “It just doesn’t work that way.”

Fifth, the profit margins on fentanyl are astronomical, which means that if one set of suppliers is eliminated another group will emerge. In her testimony to Congress earlier this year, DEA Head Ann Milgram noted that “It costs as little as 10 cents to produce a fentanyl-laced fake prescription pill that is sold in the United States for as much as $10 to $30 per pill.” With that kind of profit margin, a criminal enterprise like a drug cartel can buy “fighters to control transportation routes in Mexico and smugglers and (the funds needed for) bribery, equipment and vehicles.” The conclusion: Should the cartels be eliminated, as long as the demand persists and the profits are high, fentanyl will be produced somewhere else by someone else.

Sixth, as Kylie Murdock explained in a The Third Way article, there is no clear link between fentanyl and illegal immigration. She noted that most of the fentanyl that enters the U.S. comes through legal ports of entry brought in by U.S. citizens “inside seat cushions, car batteries, even inside the metal frame of a walker.” She notes that in 2021, “86% of fentanyl trafficking convictions were U.S. citizens and 1,322 of the 1,533 charged fentanyl trafficking offenders were U.S. citizens.

Finally, while our awareness of fentanyl is increasing, fentanyl deaths are not a new phenomenon. They have been on the rise for the past decade, increasing since 2014. From 2016 to 2020, fentanyl deaths in the U.S. increased by 191%, compared with a 25% increase from 2020 to 2021.

In summary, should the U.S. “pull the trigger” on Mexican cartels it will not result in a victory in the “War on Drugs,” a war launched decades ago on the flawed assumption that the military tactics that can vanquish an enemy can also solve social problems or cure a disease.

The Mexican drug cartels are unarguably greedy, ruthless, and power-hungry. They should be eliminated and, if asked, the U.S. might assist the Mexican government in doing so. Sending U.S. troops to Mexico without the support of the Mexican President, though, would be a diplomatic debacle. And, even if the cartels were eliminated, the demand for drugs and the huge profits from their manufacture would result in the emergence of criminal enterprises somewhere else. The sad reality is that the cartels are meeting our country’s demand for drugs, a demand resulting from the number of people suffering from substance use disorder, a demand that too often results in the aptly named “deaths of despair.”

After 50-plus years it might be time to realize that diseases can’t be conquered with military force and the “war on (fill in the blank)” metaphor and all of the battle metaphors that accompany it should be retired. To achieve the serenity that undercuts the desire for drugs we should stop rattling sabers on battlefields and start cultivating peace.

Sign up for our free email updates
Valley News Daily Headlines
Valley News Contests and Promotions
Valley News Extra Time
Valley News Breaking News

Valley News

24 Interchange Drive
West Lebanon, NH 03784


© 2021 Valley News
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy