HEALTHY BITE | The War on Drugs, How’s It Going

The drug war goes far beyond arrests and incarceration. From education, housing, and employment to political influences at the higher level, we can see its impact on nearly every part of everyday life. Tune in as I reflect on the influence the war on drugs has had on the world since it began,

The War on Drugs, How’s It Going

Well, drugs. They are part of our world. In fact, the war on drugs was first started in the 1970s.It was the late 60s, early 70s by President Nixon. We could argue about why the war on drugs was started. Some people would postulate that it was his opportunity to disenfranchise people at universities and people of colour in America and a way of criminalising and jailing those forces, those people.

We can say without any shadow of a doubt, if the evidence is anything to go by, that the war on drugs has been an abject failure rather than prevent harm, it has actually criminalised and jailed and actually killed thousands and thousands, if not millions of people around the world. It often surprises me that despite the fact that alcohol and tobacco are undoubtedly the biggest drugs of concern in our society, and the statistics show that they are legal and yet things like heroin, cocaine, marijuana, ecstasy, LSD, all of these things are criminalised. 

I remember many years ago watching one of the barristers, Geoffrey Robertson’s hypotheticals, and he had a panel of experts sitting there and he said if you had two neurosurgeon’s about to operate on your brain and one was addicted to alcohol and the other was addicted to heroin, who would you rather operate on your brain? And the answer was the heroin person because they’d be incredibly focussed on what they were doing neurologically, very focussed. But that is obviously not the case. That is criminalised. It often just amazes me that this has still is going on to this very day. 

Are we winning the war on drugs?

I’ve had so many patients in my practise at various levels, people that worked in the Department of Public Prosecutors, the Ombudsman, the judges, police, senior police. I had an undercover policeman as a patient once. He came in in ragged jeans and torn T-shirt and when he sat down, he pulled the gun out from the back of his jeans and put it on the side. I think he turned to me and said, we’re not going to hurt each other, are we? And I said, most definitely not. 

Actually, no, he didn’t say that. But it did kind of take my breath away. And I said to him, “John, tell me you’re an undercover policeman in the drug squad. Are we winning the war on drugs?” This would have been about 10, 15 years ago. He just shook his head and said, “Look, we probably get 5% of the drugs that come in and it keeps me employed.”

When you hear senior policemen are, in fact, former commissioners heads of the AFP, I think was quoted as saying that the war on drugs and criminalisation of drugs just simply hasn’t worked and puts undue weight on our society, both cost and socially, mentally, and financially. And it’s just a lose, lose, lose. In fact, one could.. when you look at the evidence and again, I often reference this if the evidence is anything to go by, and I know correlation does not mean causation, but I think we can draw a correlation here between drugs that are made illegal and criminalised and the cause that the effect that that has. 

I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that literally billions of dollars are spent on policing it, adjudicating on it and incarcerating people on it. I mean, literally, billions of dollars are spent and the outcome of those jail sentences is never or very rarely positive, that’s the one side.

On the other side, there are because it’s a criminal activity, there are literally billionaires being made by the illegal sale of these drugs. It would seem perfectly logical to me that by decriminalising it and bringing it under government regulation, two very important things would happen. The billions of dollars that are being spent trying to police an unpolice-able. Is there such a word? I’m not sure, but an unpolice-able thing like drugs would now no longer. The wasted resource that it is, our jails would be emptied, our courts would be emptied, our police could get on with doing other things that are far more urgent and useful, that is one side of the equation.

Because it is now under government regulation or revenue that is generated from this industry and let’s make no mistake about it, it is an industry, would be going into government coffers and people would be treated not as criminals, but would be seen as a medical condition. We know how prohibition worked in the 1920s and 30s in America. It wasn’t a very successful social-political health experience or economic experience. So have we learnt nothing? And so this war on drugs is an issue.

Killer in the world

Actually, when we look at drugs in general, we know that heart disease is still the number one killer in the world. There’s something like 50 million people.. Uhh, no, 18 million people a year die of cardiovascular disease, something like 10 or 11 million dies of cancer and then we have autoimmune conditions and diabetes, even something like four and a half million people a year dies of diabetes. The third biggest killer is a prescription medication, you know, taken as prescribed in the opioid crisis or not prescribed. The opioid crisis in America was an excellent example of that.

Should we be banning prescription medication as well? Well, obviously, we shouldn’t. It comes under government regulations and there are schedules that classify various medications according to their potential for harm and parts of America and now have legalised marijuana. 

We’ve done a programme with Professor Ian Brighthope on Medicinal Cannabis. Uses for medicinal cannabis are many and varied. We’re also be doing and have done a programme with Mind Medicine Australia, which is championing the reintroduction of the use of psychedelics, LSD, and ecstasy for protracted, incurable conditions, sometimes like post-traumatic stress or major chronic depression. These supposedly criminalised, well it’s not supposedly, they have been criminalised drugs, have actually therapeutic properties, qualities which, if properly regulated and managed, can have a beneficial effect on society. 

If you haven’t had a chance to listen to this week’s episode with Paul Dillon, that educator who over the last 20 or so years, has been going into schools and educating kids about the dangers of drugs, cannabis, ecstasy, cocaine, LSD, a drug I hadn’t heard about, GHB, gamma-hydroxybutyrate. It was a very interesting podcast. He shared some very promising statistics about alcohol and tobacco use amongst teenagers, amongst school-aged children, and rather disturbing statistics around the fact that some prescription medications like Valium and Xanax are really problems in the school. 

We would always be there for our kids no matter what

Look, it was a great conversation with Pau and personally, as the father of two daughters who are now adults, I know this was an issue that we confronted as our two daughters were growing up. I know there was a very strong push for zero tolerance. Just say no. Well, yeah, as though that’s going to happen. And I don’t think that is a realistic or particularly right way of approaching this.

In our own case, one of the most important things we tried to impart to our children was not to mix drugs. That was really important, not to try drugs that you didn’t actually know where they were coming from. As difficult as that may be, I think it’s an important thing to alert our kids to, and probably most importantly, that were they ever to get into trouble, we were always there for them to call. Under no circumstances was there ever going to be a problem with them giving us a call.

In fact, Paul used that analogy saying that what he tries to do is tell kids in schools that there are lots of pillows around them to soften their fall, should they fall. I said to Paul, well, I think one of the most important messages that we tried to convey to our children was that that the biggest pillow of all that our kids could always rely on to fall against was us. We would always be there for them no matter what. So zero tolerance is a great idea, but in the real world, I think we have to take a real-world approach.

I can never understand why politicians are not decriminalising drugs. And the only reason I can think is either they are completely ignorant of the evidence. They are completely ignoring the evidence. Either they are so dogmatic about their stance. One of my most favourite bumper stickers that I have ever seen is my karma just ran over your dogma. I think being dogmatic is a terrible position to be in, particularly when you’re in a position of power and making laws or and.. Here’s a thought. 

They are just colluding because as far as I am concerned, the only people that could be benefiting from the current drug laws are those that are making billions, millions, and millions of dollars from selling drugs that are illegal in our society and for those lawmakers that are not decriminalising the law, then I think wittingly or unwittingly, I hope it’s unwitting. They are colluding with criminal elements within our society.

I just thought I would share that little bit of insight into my view on drugs in general, what some of our podcasts have been about with on Medicinal Cannabis, on the Mind Medicine Australia Psychedelics, and most recently with Paul Dillon, that wonderful educator that’s going out into schools and doing such an important job. It was a great episode. I hope this finds you well until next time.


This podcast provides general information and discussion about medicine, health, and related subjects. The content is not intended and should not be construed as medical advice or as a substitute for care by a qualified medical practitioner. If you or any other person has a medical concern, he or she should consult with an appropriately qualified medical practitioner. Guests who speak in this podcast express their own opinions, experiences, and conclusions.