By Paul Wright
For almost a century the United States has waged its war on poor drug users, illegalizing alcohol, marijuana, opiates, cocaine, stimulants, hallucinogenic and other consciousness altering substances. I have never called this long running “war on drugs” either a failure or debacle. Its proponents have never bothered defining its goals. I refer to it as a Pyric Defeat: on its own terms it fails so miserably it succeeds. But for the war on poor drug users, the millions of police, prison and jail guards, lawyers, court staff, customs officials, informers, smugglers, assassins, chemists, money launderers, etc., would all be out of a job. The hundreds of thousands of peasants planting and harvesting drug producing plants would be making much less money on commercial crops like corn or beans. It would be a disaster for millions of people. Then intelligence agencies like the CIA would no longer have covert slush funds for their operations, bribes for politicians and police would go down, violence levels from murder to drug wars would subside and much more.
This issue’s cover story reports on the opioid epidemic behind bars. It follows that if you lock up and cage millions of drug addicts many of them are going to continue to crave and use drugs. I have long thought that nothing exemplifies the meaningless nature of the “drug war” than the fact that illegal drugs of every type are readily available in every maximum-security prison in America. This follows on the fact that drugs like heroin and cocaine are not produced in the US, have no known or legal means of distribution, yet can be easily bought or purchased in every town or city in America outside prison as well. The availability of illegal drugs in prisons and jails is illustrative of the farcical nature of the drug war where the government maintains prisoners under total and constant surveillance and control, controls all avenues of physical access and prisoners lack movement outside secure perimeters. It also points to the levels of corruption by prison employees that permit this availability.
Drug testing is one of the more lucrative areas of the drug war with billions being spent annually to test people, especially prisoners, for illegal drug use. In the 1990s I was working in the law library at the Washington State Reformatory in Monroe and a prisoner came in to complain that he had been found guilty of using marijuana in a prison disciplinary hearing and had been sentenced to 30 days in segregation and had lost 45 days of good time. It was his third or fourth drug infraction over the course of his ten-year sentence and he had extended his prison stay by several months. He was surprised when I told him that prison officials really didn’t care if he used drugs. If they don’t care, why do they keep testing my urine and extending my prison sentence? I asked him if after all the positive drug tests anyone had ever even bothered to ask him where or how he had obtained the demon weed. He admitted no one had. Things they care about they will ask how it entered the prison, things they don’t care about they don’t ask.
As we have reported in PLN over the decades, prisons and jails across the country have not only long underfunded drug and alcohol treatment programs for prisoners they have also repeatedly cut their budgets and services where they have been established. As the number of prisoners dying from overdoses surge it is futile to expect any type of leadership from the government, federal or state, that might try to reduce or mitigate the number of deaths by simple measures like providing drug treatment to all those who desire it in real time. Ensuring Narcan is available throughout facilities and prisoners and staff alike are trained in its use. Caging millions of people in facilities run by staff who are susceptible to corruption and smuggling drugs coupled with already inadequate medical and mental health treatment facilities only ensures an ongoing and avoidable death toll. Sadly, there appears to be no end in sight for the immediate future.
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