Statistics are so commonplace that it is rare these days to be taken aback by them but this one was startling. The number of babies born with symptoms of opiate withdrawal has trebled between 2000 and 2009 in the USA.
This is babies of drug addicted mothers who when they are born are so used to having opiate in their blood stream that they are essentially born addicted and suffer withdrawal when they no longer are getting maternal blood!
The findings were published online in the Journal of The American Medical association. Figures also showed that 16% of teen and 7.5% of 18-25 year old pregnant women used opiates or other drugs.
Perhaps we should not be surprised when we look at this in the light of other information, which has been emerging. There has been over the last decade an explosion in the use of opiates – and mostly the “legal” variety. The launch of Oxycontin in the late 1990’s was hailed as a breakthrough for those with pain as it was an oral form of a painkiller, which previously had to be injected.
Fortune magazine did an excellent review of the subject and I encourage you to read the whole article. But here are two key points from it. According to Fortune in 2012, some 254 million scripts were filled for opiods in the USA, which is enough to medicate every adult American 24/7 for a month! Secondly,the drug Oxycontin was promoted as being non addictive but it IS addictive. The company making it was fined $635 million by the FDA for misleading advertising. Sales revenue in 2010 was $3 billion!
In 2008 deaths from poisoning in the USA exceeded the road toll for the first time in 30 years. Of this 90% was due to drugs and of these 40% were due to oral opiates – far exceeding the toll of illicit drugs.
Meanwhile we continue to fight the “war” on drugs. I read a figure in The Australian newspaper that at the end of 2010 the US had a greater percentage of its population in prison than any other society with 730 per 100,000. The main reason was drug related offences. Estimates are that as many as 80% of inmates in Australian prisons are drug related offences.
So how is the war on drugs gong? Are we winning? Is usage declining? Are less people involved in the drug trade? Are fewer people being harmed?
The results at present of the war on drugs are an increase in deaths, and usage together with an increase in prison populations. Add to this an increase in certain crimes and in particular robberies in pharmacies and not only are we not winning, we are losing. And lots of people are suffering co-lateral damage.
And politicians seem to think that more of the same is the answer.
A group of prominent Australians released a report in April saying the war on drugs had failed. It included a former health minister and premier. The Global Commission last year reached the same conclusion.
I do not claim to have the answers. However what we do need is to have rational debate. Currently, anything that is not seen as part of the “war” is dismissed as being “soft” on drugs. Yet prohibition has never worked with substances anywhere it has been applied.
The bottom line is current policies and “the war” is not working. When what you do isn’t working, doing more of the same will not work any better. We need to be open to other strategies. Until we are prepared to accept this we will continue to wage the war whilst losing the fight.