About Addiction: Drinking age, Drugs and violence and Addiction Treatment

What did you already learn about addiction today? I bet we can double, no wait, triple that in this post alone!!! Check out this week’s coverage of the most interesting, and informative online content about addiction.

Drinking Limits and the (really) young

Telegraph– Sir Terry Leahy, an owner of Britain’s largest super market chain, wants to change the drinking laws in order to prevent teens from becoming binge drinkers. Leahy points out that a lot of alcohol is consumed in homes, so he wants to create a law which will raise the age in which children can drink in the home. Currently, children can legally drink at home as early as 5 years of age. I hope they’re not throwing keg-parties that early!

Drugs, sex, violence, and more young

USA Today- Researchers in Scotland found that when an anti-smoking bans was in place the number of children hospitalized for asthma dropped 18% in the first year and they saw a decline in heart attacks. I guess their anti-smoking campaigns work better than U.S. ones.

Addiction Inbox-Check out this article on the effects of different drugs on sexual performance.

Decoder– This site give tips and tricks for raising drug free teens, it is a good read that includes tips on teachable moments, showing how you care, tips for talking about potential alcohol and drug use, and knowing what kids are facing today. Do keep in mind that about 80% of children engage in some kind of deviant behavior during their teens.

Fox News– Two of Mexico’s rival drug gang leaders have been captured, possibly marking the beginning of a new era in the country’s drug war. Many drug lords  have started surrendering, and “the criminals are no longer putting up resistance” when surrounded, according to a leader of Mexico’s anti-drug-cartel campaign. As we’ve written on A3, more than 28,000 people have died in drug-related violence since President Felipe Calderon launched the offensive against drug cartels soon after taking office in 2006, it would be nice if the drug war is soon over.

Addiction Treatment

Join together– Is it fair that older adults have to pay more for treatment? Substance-abuse treatment admissions for individuals who are  50 and older  has more than doubled between 1992 and 2008.  This can be attributed to unemployment,   homelessness, and the aging baby-boomer population. Maybe it’s the 60’s catching up with everyone.

Breaking the cycles– When individuals are several months into recovery from addiction there are often feelings of  anxiety, of being unsettled or worried, and all these emotions can affect  a person’s long-term recovery. One of the major reasons for this is worrying about financial matters. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission tries to help Americans in debt through its helpful website, Knee Deep In Debt.

News stories about addiction

The Hollywood reporter– Pat O’ Brien writes a letter to Lindsay Lohan asking her to look at her life and try to live in a way that will benefit her.

Justice Policy Institute– It has been reported that crime is down in all regions of the country. This is being attributed to reductions in incarceration times brought about by the tough economic reality. Policy makers apparently realized that locking people up for long periods of time is not smart economically and apparently this decrease in incarceration has brought with it a reduction in crime.

Drug legalization – For, against, and in between options

gavelA recent assembly bill in California is the latest legal proposal that the state begin to regulate, and collect taxes, on marijuana. This is one of the first bills for drug legalization we’ve had in a while. Most of my readers probably assume that I believe drugs have no place in our society, but this sort of assessment would be far from true. As I’ve pointed out in numerous posts on here, only a relatively small percentage of people that try drugs get addicted to them. In fact, I believe that education and regulation, rather than outright criminalization, may end up being our best solution.

Still, unlike many, I’m not ready to jump the gun yet. I think the issue should be studied scientifically, carefully, and that the results should guide our decisions. It is very possible that legalization would greatly increase the drug use problem in the US. The two most commonly used, and abused, drugs in the U.S. are currently tobacco and alcohol, the two widely-available legal drugs;  the third in-line is marijuana, which enjoys a near-decriminalized status in a number of states. I don’t think this is a coincidence, and neither do a whole bunch of other smart people (look here for a nice overview of both-sides of this argument, and here for a RAND report).

Still, it’s also possible that drug legalization wouldn’t produce those results, and there’s little doubt in my mind that decriminalization would alleviate many of the common problems that currently go hand-in-hand with drug use: Crime, violence, accidental poisoning, etc. I also believe that if the drugs were legal, the reduction in stigma, health-care coverage, and the availability of far better research could possibly help us in better treating addicts.

The bottom line is that we don’t know and that unless we examine every solution, we’re most likely to miss some opportunities. I also don’t think that outright legalization or the current, harsh, penalties are the true answer. I think that being dogmatic about either position is going to leave us with half-measures, and we don’t want that. It also leaves us with unrealistic solutions – For instance, complete drug legalization is simply not going to happen, which leaves questions as to age limits, use restrictions, and dispensation that unless answered make the debate a purely theoretical one.

In addition to the above link about the bill, there’s a group of law enforcement officials that believes in the repeal of drug prohibition, and not because they use drugs themselves. Just to be fair, the US department of justice has put out a publication speaking out against drug legalization.

Again, if I’ve learned anything in my studies is that a more refined compromise is probably our best actual solution. Still, coming to this agreement will require a lot of work on both sides.

Demand & Money: Why Mexican drug cartels aren’t losing this war.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll probably say it again, but the Mexican drug war isn’t going to be won anytime soon, not while there’s black market demand for narcotics over here in the good old U.S. of A. The reasoning isn’t complicated and it shouldn’t take a RAND foundation study, or a man of Obama’s intelligence and charm to understand it… It’s the money. I’ve been there, take it from me.

Mexican Drug War, dealers, and Money

Since Calderon, Mexico’s President, declared an all out drug war on the cartels, Marijuana, Heroin, and crystal meth seizures at the U.S.-Mexico border have gone up by 30%-200% (crystal meth and heroin respectively) according to a recent L.A. Times article. As someone who’s actually been on both sides of the drug war, I can tell you that while Calderon’s people talk about the cartels trying to replace the state, the only thing drug dealers care about is money. Still, it’s true that having complete control over entire states in Mexico let’s these organizations operate more easily and control their business-interest more completely. At the end though, the drug war is all about the Benjamins, because there are a whole lot of those – like $40 Billion kind of a lot.

The reason I feel so confident in my position is this – I used to sell drugs in Los Angeles. I was not at the top of any cartel, but at some point I was selling tens-of-thousands of ecstasy pills a week along with a few pounds of crystal meth, cocaine stamped with those cartel logos (like scorpions, doves, and such), and any other drug my more than 400 clients, and 4-6 dealers, told me they would give me money for. The business brought me about $500,000 a year and though my success was short lived, having gotten arrested after my motorcycle accident, I got to learn quite a bit about the underworld in my five year immersion program.

While I stuck to drugs, others around me, each with their own little drug-empire, had no problem expanding into other profitable business like electronics, cellular phones, and credit card numbers complete with identity theft. If it made money, they wanted a part in it, and the drugs served as a great bonus since we were all high on a lot of them all the time. On many of our more extensive drug deals, involving those tinted-window car caravans you’ve seen in movies right along with secret meetings in the back of an abandoned gas station south of Orange County, we would use cell phones that my partners got from their underground operations, activated using a stolen identity so that they can’t be traced to us. A good deal of the stereo equipment in my old apartment was gotten through one of my friends’ little electronics-store operation – he gave me an entire stereo system, and I paid him with a few hundred ecstasy pills. I rocked and he made some money.

When cops sell drugs

One of my main connections, a stocky, short, Jewish guy we all simply called “D”, once took me along with him as he delivered a bag full of money and some boxes of armor-penetrating bullets to a Mexican Federale who would drive cocaine into the U.S. in the tires of his car. While he was supposed to be playing a different role in the Mexican drug war, he apparently really loved those bullets and would come back to his home country happy, with a trunk full of cash, while we drove away with spare tires full of those scorpion-stamped bricks of cocaine. And who could blame him given the huge sums of money flaunted in his face all the time as he was forced to live near poverty? At the time I certainly couldn’t.

The things is that morality aside, it doesn’t matter if anyone blames, or would arrest, this guy and the thousand others like him. We live in a world driven by money, and when the straight-and-narrow offers little compensation, the good life is only a few smuggling miles away. Of course on the money’s heels also comes intimidation, constant paranoia, and the almost certain feel of gun-metal either in your waist, or up against your temple. I’ve been there too.

Legalization? Probably not

All in all, it’s time for our government to realize that where there’s poverty there’s crime and where there’s crime drugs will soon follow. As the Mexican cartels send representatives to the U.S. they have taken over the distribution in many of our cities as well, increasing their profit margins, and their control, over this market. If you really want to deal them a blow, make all drugs legal and start regulating their manufacturing, though maybe then the difference between drug cartels and the Halliburtons of our world will become even less obvious.

Obviously, legalization isn’t going to happen, and I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. The most commonly abused drugs in this country are alcohol and nicotine, both legal, with marijuana, which is essentially decriminalized in most states, coming in a close third. Together, those three drugs account for more than 95% of drug abuse here, and for a substantial portion of health-problems and deaths. If we bring the rest of the drugs into the fold, we’ll no doubt see large increases in use for most of them, compounding the problems in terms of health and related mortality.

Still, that seems to be the question – Legalize and reduce black-market crime while hurting the health (physical and psychological) of your citizenship? Or try to reduce demand with prevention while continuing the drug war, stopping as much of the supply as you can but never getting enough of it and letting drug kingpins amass Bill-Gates-like fortunes?

Fortunately for me, I don’t have to answer that question…

And the winner is… Cocaine: The US-Mexico drug war.

This post is based on an amazing broadcast I heard on KPCC, a local NPR radio-station; the story was part of Zocalo radio.

In the story, Dr. Josh Kun spoke about the struggles of the war on drugs and the recent massive casualties on the southern side of the border. I had talked about this violence in a past post, but hearing about it from the point of view of someone else made me realize all the more how desperate the situation is.

Drug smuggling, money, and reality

As Josh pointed out, drug-dealing and smuggling bring in so much money (billions of dollars annually) that it is at best naive, and at worse, stupid, to think that guns and enforcement are going to do the job. When there are tens of billions of dollars at stake in areas of the world that are deeply entrenched in severe poverty, the money is going to win.

I’ve had personal experience with this, with Mexican Federales bringing in cocaine in the tires of police cars. When faced with smuggling operations like that, all the sweeping governmental mandates won’t change a thing.

How do we fix the cocaine problem?

Given the fact that the US supplies the drug dealers not only with the money (we buy more than 50% of the world’s drugs), but also with the guns, it seems to me that there are only 2 ways to make a dent in the business:

1) We have to do a better job at treating, and preventing, the massive drug-abuse problem in this country. I’m working on this, and I haven’t failed at much in my life (yet), so hold on tight, I’m on it.

2) We have to do whatever we can to increase the standard of living in these places. That way, the deaths, the shootings, the violence, and the fear that permeate the border towns on both sides of the US-Mexican border affected by this are simply no longer worth it. If given a choice between starvation and a cocaine run, most of us would choose the cocaine; the choice is a lot simpler when there’s food on the table and soccer balls for the kids to play with.

That’s it, that’s our goal. This is how we make the world of drug abuse, smuggling, brain-damage, imprisonment, and death, better. We don’t do it with guns; instead we used common sense, we use our heads. We can’t beat out poverty with bullets, the human will to survive and thrive will keep producing soldiers.