Causal Essay- Sam Sarlo

Although it is widely accepted that the war on drugs is an effort to protect Americans from drugs and prevent drug-related death, it has been having the opposite effect since its inception. The problem started with the prohibition laws passed in the early 1900s, which definitively outlawed and classified all of the drugs we have come to know as “street drugs”- marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and amphetamines. Before these substances were “dangerous street drugs,” they were over-the-counter medicines that could be freely purchased in a drug store. Coca cola wasn’t always a sugary soft drink, it started as a medicinal cocaine solution. Marijuana tinctures were a fixture on every drug store counter, and opiate pain killers were distributed directly by doctors to anyone who complained of pain. Prohibition caused the value of these substances to skyrocket, kickstarting a massive underground trade that has steadily grown to this day. Also, prohibition stigmatized these medicines as dangerous intoxicants, which inspired a new wave of demand from young people looking to use them as such.

One of the leading arguments used to support the drug war is the seemingly noble motive of saving lives. It only seems logical that beefing up drug enforcement would prevent countless drug-related deaths, but it doesn’t. In fact, it is the prohibition itself that causes   the vast majority of these deaths. Thousands die each year from drug-related violence each year, and most of these deaths are caused in some way by the drug war. Drug dealers kill each other in territorial disputes every day, and innocent people are often caught in the crossfire. Drug inmates overcrowd prisons causing deadly riots. Law enforcement officers kill users and dealers frequently, and vice-versa. Even worse, there have been many cases in which law enforcement teams have conducted drug raids on the homes of innocent families and shot people and pets in front of children. Meth labs explode, often killing innocent neighbors. Marijuana growers shoot anyone who discovers their crop. Mexican cartels kill thousands each year, both in mexico and the U.S., their organizations fueled by our laws. These types of deaths are directly caused by the war on drugs. If drugs had never been outlawed, there would be no drug dealers to fight over turf, users would not have the fear of incarceration that drives them to fight the police, law enforcement would have no justifiable grounds to break down random doors and start shooting, and the cartels would never have become so powerful.
Violence isn’t the only way the drug war kills. Because illegal drugs are supplied by criminals, their quality, potency and mixture varies widely. Most heroin overdoses occur because the user must approximate their dosage based on the last time they injected, and it is impossible for them to know the potency of drugs they bought on the street. Pesky customers or suspected informants are often poisoned by dealers. Users die of severe allergic reaction from fillers added by dealers to increase profits. Addicts, some of them prostitutes, spread blood-borne diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis-C because they can’t get clean needles. People jump from buildings because they underestimated the potency of their hallucinogens.
The drug war kills people in more ways than I could ever hope to realize or list. Although he surely didn’t know it, when President Nixon started a war on drugs, he declared war on his own people by creating an enemy. If drugs are the enemy, then clearly we are losing this war. Drugs are still going strong- there’s more of them now than ever, but more and more people are dying in the fight. The only way we can hope to defeat such an enemy is to make it an ally in the battle for the lives and liberties of the American people.
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