Currently, the president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, is in an anti-drug crusade that echoes the expression “the end justify the means,” or in his words, “I have a duty to preserve the [next] generation. If it involves human rights, I don’t give a shit.” Unfortunately, Duterte’s war on drugs is condemned to fail, just like previous models or propositions.
Since 1971, when President Nixon declared the war on drugs, the United States has invested billions of dollars on this so-called war, and thousands in the United States have been incarcerated for drug-related offenses. This is dwarfed in comparison to the effects the war on drugs had in countries like Mexico and Colombia where blood has been spilled in order to disrupt the supply chain of narcotics to the country with the highest demand of hallucinogens in the entire world.
In 2016, the National Center for Health Statistics reported that more than 64,000 people had died of opioid overdose. “Synthetic opioids other than methadone,” like illegally produced analgesic Fentanyl, have claimed more than 20,145 lives. Two widely-consumed drugs, cocaine and methamphetamines, only caused 10,619 and 7,663 overdose deaths respectively.
The fact that an FDA-approved analgesic medicine has claimed more lives than cocaine and methamphetamines combined hinders the arguments that support the decriminalization and legalization of all drugs. Legalizing and regulating opioids might not alter the amount of overdose deaths; on the contrary, it will signify that the state is not able to control the problem legally. State imposed sale restrictions will not reduce drug consumption because people would resort to the black market to buy their missing doses.
Some legal synthetic opioids like the Fentanyl are, according to the DEA webpage, “limited … as an analgesic and anesthetic.” it is easy for drug producers to buy supplies from Chinese vendors and mix them with other opioids before they are sold for exorbitant profits. The state already regulates legal opioids, yet people are still dying because of it.
Legalizing drugs does not solve the problem of substance dependency. Drug addicts would remain living as homeless outcasts because they don’t have stable sources of income to support themselves or pay for the newly-legalized hallucinogens. People would also lose their lives to legal drugs because they are addictive. Stories about people mortgaging their houses and losing their lives saving in a casino are common, then, similar stories involving legal opioids might also become a reality. Socially, the only difference would be that drug dealers are respected businesspeople.
The third alternative was proposed by the president of Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, which consists of solving drug problems with guns, an ironically American approach. Since assuming office in 2016, Duterte and his war on drugs have killed 12,000 people. After a few months in office, Duterte declared his admiration of Hitler by declaring that “[he] massacred three million Jews. Now, there is three million drug addicts. I’d be happy to slaughter them.”
According to Phelim Kine, the Human Rights Watch Deputy Director of the Asia Division, Duterte’s war on drugs has been carried by the Philippines police and local police-backed vigilantes. Official records show that the police carried out 4,000 executions, while vigilante groups killed 8,000 people in extrajudicial killings.
What is happening in the Philippines is not a drug war, it is a social cleansing. Duterte is not solving the Philippines’s drug addiction problems, he is simply killing “undesirable people” to boost his public image among Filipino citizens.
People who have denounced Duterte are labeled as enemies of the state and prosecuted. A Supreme Court judge was removed because of her criticism of Duterte, and foreigners have been jailed and/or deported for denouncing Duterte’s crimes.
Regardless of the flaws, failures, and brutality of these measures to prevent drug trafficking and consumption, the key to solve this puzzle lies in front of us. The basic principle of supply and demand states that as long as demand exists, supply will also exist. Thus, obstructing the demand of opioids will ultimately eradicate the need for a supply, and drug related violence would also disappear. Accomplishing this is another complex problem that does not have a feasible solution at this moment. Instead of killing every mobster and drug addict in the Philippines, Duterte should consider the more humane market solution to his war on drugs, before he kills tens of thousands more people.
Sebastian Suarez is a fourth-year political science major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.