The news came out last week that federal agents made two significant drug busts at the Port of Hueneme with the interception and seizure of more than 220 pounds of cocaine in two cargo ships in late January. For proponents of the war on drugs, it was nothing more than good news. The seizure meant that access to the potent upper would be limited, at least for the time being. But upon reflection, while the bust at the port itself is of historical importance — the biggest of its kind in 25 years — a quick search for drug busts in Ventura County reveals that what happened at the port was practically trivial compared to the ongoing and routine arrests and seizure of drugs just in the last year.
In December 2018, 15 arrests were made with the seizure of heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana, along with handguns, ammunition and a large stash of cash. (Reports didn’t specify amounts.) In October, 15 arrests along with the seizure of 285 pounds of methamphetamine, 121 pounds of cocaine, six pounds of Fentanyl and 600 counterfeit oxycodone pills. In September, a Winnetka man was arrested for possession of four pounds of methamphetamine and two ounces of heroin. In March, 30 arrests along with the seizure of a pound of heroin. And those reports were just at the top of the search results. There were plenty more arrests, from misdemeanors for personal use to smaller drug deals, that didn’t catch national attention.
For the March arrest, however, Ventura County Sgt. Victor Fazio told reporters, “We have to stay diligent because we know it won’t be long before another comes in and fills that void.” Given what has happened since that major arrest, it doesn’t appear authorities can be diligent enough to stop the supply chain. So what about focusing on the demand aspect?
The war on drugs seems to keep the jails full and the rehab centers occupied, but what is the value of drugs if they are no longer desired — or prohibited, for that matter? By all appearances, the legal prohibition of all the aforementioned drugs keeps thousands of people employed, from law enforcement to attorneys and judges too. Imagine what would become of the justice system and all those who benefit from it if all drugs were legal.
With FDA-approved drugs, such as opioids Fentanyl and OxyContin and even Adderall, a legal upper with almost identical side effects to methamphetamine, our current approach of punishing those addicted to drugs and trying to combat the proliferation of drugs through arrest seems counterproductive. The only so-called gateway aspect when it comes to marijuana is that it was legally prohibited for decades. But what about prescription drugs that have a schedule 1 narcotic equivalent? How many addicts started with legal drugs and wound up buying the street version at a lesser cost?
In January, the National Safety Council released its findings on preventable deaths, with opioid overdoses taking the lead over car accidents. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 130 Americans die each day overdosing on opioids. For 2018, total loss of life due to drug overdose: 70,237. The number of people dying from drug overdoses isn’t abating, the number of arrests doesn’t appear to be decreasing and yet we are still fighting this war on drugs.
In The Netherlands, by contrast, the government funds heroin use with specific parameters and in 2016, 235 people died of heroin use for the whole year. While The Netherlands has only a fraction of the U.S. population, 17 million versus 325 million, to match U.S. drug deaths, The Netherlands would have to increase to 3,674 deaths per year. What is the war on drugs for if not to prevent dangerous outcomes? Until we start talking about the true purpose of this lethal and costly war, we should expect more of the same or worse results.