PIEDMONT, CA – This wealthy district of Oakland is considered to be amongst the most elite suburbs in all of the San Francisco Bay Area. To the north swim the migrating whales off the coast of Point Reyes. To the east sits Yosemite National Park. To the south awaits a coastal drive along Route 1 all the way to Carmel, providing the most stunning seaside vistas on Earth. (With an honorable mention going to Cape Town, South Africa.)
Yet there is something very dark and sinister about Piedmont that an interloper might not be able to readily identify. The DEA has called Oakland a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, or HIDTA. Drugs flow into the United States across a porous border. Belize, Mexico and Guatemala are some of the preferred routes. Drugs can be distributed by youth gangs, prison gangs and motorcycle gangs acting like innumerable ants emanating from hidden ant colonies. You might not know that some ants can lift up to eight times their body weight. This freak of nature is a microcosm of our conundrum. And one of the sacred texts of the Old Testament – penned by King Solomon, the wisest and richest man who ever lived – asks humans to stand in awe of the ant. It’s hard not to stand in awe at the sheer audacity and success of transnational drug traffickers who make the British East India Company look like trick-or-treaters.
America is flooded with drugs. Prescription drugs are poisoning our groundwater. The use of even the smallest amount of cocaine constitutes a life-threatening event. There’s LSD, designer drugs like “Molly” and the fact that teenagers in Piedmont and neighboring Montclair have been used as “human guinea pigs” to “test/ingest safe LSD” for their peers. Clearly we have been dumped into a meat grinder. Major banks have paid massive fines for laundering the tainted, blood-soaked money of the drug cartels.
The United Nations says $1 out of every $10 on Earth comes from the drug trade. This illicit money underpins our entire financial system in a way not unlike the Saudi-led petrodollar. How can you fight what you cannot see?
The United States of America is the world’s largest consumer of illegal drugs and prescription drugs. Yet we do not have a comprehensive and workable national drug strategy. In Holland, I was shown drug addicts shooting up with clean needles handed to them in the outdoor parks by well-meaning government health officials. In Saudi Arabia, I was personally invited to an execution for a drug trafficker. Is there some kind of middle ground between the two realms?
South of the Rio Grande, things are far worse than Holland or Saudi Arabia. Kathryn Bigelow, the talented director who brought Hollywood “The Hurt Locker” and “Point Break,” has put together a stunning work of film, “Cartel Land,” and it has thrilled a global audience.
In “Cartel Land,” the “Autodefensas” (ordinary Mexican citizens) are busy taking on Mexico’s “tough hombres,” as President Trump has called the drug cartels’ vast and diverse leadership. Without Special Forces training, Apache helicopters and 21st century satellite intelligence, everyday farmers, doctors, women and teenagers have banded together on the other side of the border to protect their homes, farms, communities and families from the poison that is the transnational drug trade. Watch their epic battle here.
In the United States, we’re busy fighting our own drug war, and in many ways this war includes campaigns for education and rehabilitation. It can be fairly argued that the very best anti-drug counselors are those who have recovered from using drugs themselves. U.S. Addictions is advocating rehabilitation as one of the conduits that can turn the tide in America’s battle with drugs. President Trump promised in his 2016 campaign to make combating drugs a national priority. If this is to become a successful, objective reality, then rehab solutions will need to be carefully examined, augmented and guided through the mass media. Per Wickstrom, CEO of USAddiction.com, has emerged as an important voice in the ongoing search for a new drug policy.
Information about the very best programs will need to be put into the hands of concerned Americans, parents, children, drug counselors and drug users. Opiates are at the top of a very long list. Some are proposing that our leaders in Washington, D.C., pass a law providing free (and cheap and natural) Narcan (which would ostensibly be made available at the local corner pharmacy) to those experiencing an opiate overdose.
Opiates are making a vengeful comeback. We’re not talking about heroin being trafficked from Afghanistan into Iran and the backwaters bordering southern Russia. We’re talking about the great United States of America. President Trump and various governors of different states have actually declared a state of national emergency concerning opiates. We have arrived at a “Crossing of the Rubicon” moment in which Trump and his political devotees have the chance to establish a new national drug policy. Opiated constitute the largest accidental cause of death today – exceeding even car accidents.
Of course, the use of opiates – and the associated problems – is nothing new to mankind. Most keen students of history know about the Opium Wars between the British Empire and China in the 17th century. The aforementioned British East India Company oversaw opium cultivation in India and its transfer to China. There, it was mixed with tobacco and smoked while manifesting into a national epidemic that still echoes today through the long-turned pages of history.
In ancient times, opium was used in various pleasure dens, and such pleasures have been brought to life for a sensual recollection through two of Netflix’s historically minded series – “Marco Polo” and “Spartacus: Blood and Sand.” Opium was used for pain relief and operations in ancient Egypt, ancient India and ancient Rome. Opium and its derivatives were also widely used during the American Civil War. After the completion of the Transcontinental Rail Road, an opium ordinance was actually passed in San Francisco. Opium was being refined into morphine, and it was becoming increasingly obvious that its medicinal value was here to stay.
Around 1900, about 35 metric tons of opium were produced globally each year. In 2017, despite the increase in global population, that figure has declined to seven metric tons annually, mainly due to national and international enforcement, and the recognition that opiates can be deadly.
Now we don’t import as much opium; we just produce massive amounts of legal painkillers.
According to Sen. Dick Durban of Illinois: “We agree and believe efforts to halt this widespread epidemic will not be successful unless we use every tool at our disposal. We urge DEA to utilize its existing quota setting authority, to the fullest extent possible, to combat this epidemic.
“Fourteen billion opioid pills are now dispensed annually in the United States – enough for every adult American to have a bottle of pills. Certainly, the pharmaceutical industry is at fault for decades of misleading information about their products and the medical community bears responsibility for its role in over-prescribing these dangerous and addictive drugs, but we remain deeply troubled by the sheer volume of opioids available – volumes that are approved by DEA.”
This brings us back to our original conundrum – through which mechanisms will the Trump administration make good on its promise to appropriately and effectively deal with America’s drug problem?