War On Drugs: Still Relevant?

wodYou’ve probably seen videotapes of drugs “busts” on evening television, especially if millions of dollars or huge quantities of illegal chemicals were seized. In fact, it’s longer shocking for the evening news to show three police officers unloading bales of confiscated marijuana from trucks or displaying tables loaded with cocaine for the TV cameras. Enough, says groups like Valid VT and Legalize Ohio.

These scenes gives us a glimpse of the vast, invisible empire of drug dealing. The sun never sets on this illicit enterprise that feeds South American coca harvesters while it ruins the lives of drugs users around the planet. From Asian poppy fields, where opium is collected, to the hidden laboratories that convert it to heroin, to the streets of your hometown, drugs are big business. Very big business–dealing with enormous profits.

From “Miracle” Drugs to a Major Menace

The drug trade is nothing new. Chinese workers who were brought to the West to build railroads are said to have been an early source of opium. And the “secret ingredients” of many “medicines” widely advertised and sold to the public in the 19th century? Opium or cocaine.

James A. Inciardi, author of The War on Drugs, writes that drugs use in the 1900s was so common that the 1897 Sears Roebuck catalog included ads for hypodermic kits that enabled buyers to inject morphine. No one really knows how many 19th-century Americans were drug-dependent, but records from that time indicate that drug use was common, Professor Inciardi writes. In those days, though, the dangers of these drugs were virtually unknown. Some experts of that time thought of opium products and cocaine as miracle drugs. The chemical compound diacetylmorphine was first marketed under the brand name “Heroin.” And historians write that even the Coca-Cola of that time contained cocaine. Only later did the dark side of these drugs become apparent.

Today, we fight back with drug education and laws to prevent and punish drug abusers and sellers. We know that illegal drugs are dangerous. We’ve learned about the hazards.

The U.S. Food and Drugs Administration closely regulates the contents and sale of prescription drugs. Pharmacists dispense them and advise customers on how they should be taken; physicians observe patients for possible side effects. There are no such safety measures with illegal drugs. A drug buyer never knows the drug’s potency or how it has been manufactured.

How Agencies Combat the Illegal Drug Trade

Thousands of people are involved in the illegal drug trade. Some foreign armies reportedly protect drug lords; drug organizations intimidate national leaders, court systems, and police. But thousands more people are fighting the sales land use of illegal drugs.

Arrests in American cities may follow months of cooperation between foreign governments and U.S. agencies, including the FBI, the CIA, the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, branches of the military, the Internal Revenue Service, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. These agencies attempt to coordinate their investigations, and huge databases and high-tech networks have been established to allow them to exchange information on drug organizations and dealers. An FBI computer, for example, is used to scan and identify fingerprints transmitted electronically by other law enforcement agencies.

Working with Other Countries

To coordinate all the agencies involved in the war on drugs requires the cooperation of many countries. It also means that huge law enforcement agencies must learn to work together closely. Sharing information is of great importance, since plans involve everyone from the local police to the Department of Defense. At the same time, political leaders must be careful to preserve relations with other countries.

The FBI is an excellent example of the fight against drugs. The FBI plan calls for catching the “big fish.” This involves gathering intelligence, intercepting drugs imports, seizing the belongings of the biggest drug operations, and constantly coordinating with other agencies.

In addition, the FBI receives CIA information on foreign drug sources, works with the Coast Guard and the Customs Service to catch drug traffickers entering the United States, and uses financial wizards to track down “money laundering” schemes. Money laundering is a way of making drug money look like it came from legitimate sources. But if experts can untangle the financial tricks used to hide the money source, they can often follow the money to a drug organization’s leaders.

Electronic eavesdropping is another technique, among many, that agents can use to understand inner workings of a drug organization.

In recent years, laws have been changed to allow law enforcement agencies to confiscate drug money and use it for future investigations.

Experts estimate that U.S. citizens spent $52 billion on illegal drugs during a recent one-year period. The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that more than 1 million people were arrested for drug crimes in 1991, the most recent statistics available.

The illegal drug trade is a major threat to the United States. It affects our economy, our people, and the future of our children. It’s a war worth fighting–and one we have to win.


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