Colombia, one of the world's largest cocaine producers, has long been a key player in Washington's failed war on drugs. But Gustavo Petro, the newly sworn-in Colombian president, has made a campaign promise to steer his country in a different direction.
Last month, he said he would end the forced extermination of coca and support legislation to decriminalize and regulate the sale of cocaine in an effort to undermine illicit markets and the profit motive that drives them.
More drug prevention
In the US, the Biden administration has also made a significant change in share price. In April, Dr. Rahul Gupta, the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, a new strategy that focuses more on prevention. The goal is to prevent deaths from opioid overdose by increasing access to medical treatment and addiction recovery programs. There are also lighter sentences for minor drug-related offences.
This new strategy recognizes that the way the drugsproblem has been addressed has not worked. US-led international drug controls have also been a staggering failure, contributing to violence and crime in places like Colombia. It has also fueled the move to synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, causing many overdose deaths. The Biden administration's new forward-thinking national policy is a step in the right direction.
In the 1999s, the United States began working closely with the Colombian National Police to curb illicit drug production and trafficking, including by eradicating coca fields and intercepting smugglers. In XNUMX, President Bill Clinton signed the Plan Colombia bill as violence and drug trafficking escalated and concerns about guerrilla influence grew. The plan was aimed, among other things, at stabilizing the nation and undermining drug production. But the militarized action failed to eradicate cocaine production.
Plan Colombia has also taken a staggering human toll. The Truth Commission, established in 2016 as part of the peace agreement between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, recently found that the war on drug trafficking has claimed more than nine million victims, the vast majority of whom were civilians. More than 450.000 people died, 121.768 went missing, thousands were kidnapped, raped or tortured, and millions were displaced. The panel called on Colombia and the United States to work towards legal regulation of drugs.
Overdose Crisis and Drug Control
In the meantime, the drug overdose crisis in the United States killed more than 107.000 people last year alone, significantly accelerating a deadly trend that has claimed nearly a million lives over the past two decades. dr. Gupta — the first physician to hold the position of drug czar — knows the impact of this crisis firsthand, having served as a health commissioner in West Virginia, the state with the highest overdose death rate.
While a place like West Virginia may seem far removed from the jungles of Colombia or the mountains of Mexico, they are linked by US drug control policies. Bans abroad have not only failed to stop the flow of drugs, but have also been a major driver of the deadly innovations in drug supply here at home.
While forced eradication can reduce the supply of drug crops in a given location, studies have shown that these reductions are always temporary. In fact, experts have long recognized that crackdowns in one place just create a “balloon effect”, shifting production and trade to another place. Growers are moving production to less supervised locations, and traffickers are moving to new areas – as we've seen in recent years' shift from Colombia to Mexico and Central America.
Furthermore, chasing dugs bosses only causes drug trafficking organizations to split into new factions, increasing competition and violence in the source countries. As a result, traffickers are being pushed into increasingly remote and often environmentally sensitive areas – with devastating environmental impacts contributing to the number of people displaced.
From human trafficker to smuggler
And perhaps most importantly, militarized control measures and increased border security efforts are actually creating incentives for traffickers. To find new sources of profit, they look for drugs that are easier to produce and transport: from cannabis to cocaine and heroin, to methamphetamines, and now synthetic opioids like fentanyl. Combined with the crackdown on over-prescription painkillers here in the United States, this has led to an explosion in the supply of fentanyl that is fueling our overdose crisis.
Ultimately, more than four decades of the US-led war on drugs have not reduced the supply of illegal substances. A recent UN report shows that global drug use has increased by 26 percent from a decade ago. Another study by the Drug Enforcement Administration confirmed that despite decades of these source control measures, drug prices remain stable, purity and potency remain high, drugs remain widely available and overdoses skyrocket.
“It is time for a new international convention that accepts that the war on drugs has failed,” President Petro said in his inaugural address, echoing an argument advanced by other Latin American leaders in recent years. Promoting policies that encourage violence abroad will do nothing to reverse the trend toward an increasingly unsafe drug supply here at home.
The Biden administration has taken important steps to address our failures here at home, but to find lasting success, it must also end our drug war abroad.
Source: www.nytimes.com (EN)