David McConkey - Columnist, Consultant, Citizen
Columnist. Consultant. Citizen.

War on Drugs No Easy Battle

Brandon Sun, October 21, 2019 – David McConkey

The recent news of the drug overdose death of Christine Mitchell has shaken our community. That she had received deliveries of illegal drugs for almost five years while living in the home of a prominent citizen adds to the newsworthiness and speculation. Subsequent investigation will shed more light on what happened. But let's be clear: the entire community shares in the ultimate responsibility.

Why do I say that? Well, we all share responsibility for allowing the continuation of the War on Drugs. The drug war has (ironically) resulted in an increased supply of dangerous drugs. The drug war also has incentivized criminals to encourage more people to become addicted. When folks are addicted, they depend on illegal, unregulated substances that can be unsafe or even lethal. We have ignored the desperate needs of our fellow citizens. And we have accepted the banalities offered by our political leaders – municipal, provincial and federal.

The fatal overdose of Mitchell is one of about 4,500 such deaths that will occur this year in Canada. An overdose death now happens every two hours. The problem has been called the biggest public health emergency of our lifetime.

And we can ask: are the actual numbers even higher? One disturbing revelation was that at first Mitchell's death was not properly reported.

We have known for a long time that our drug policies were counterproductive. Five years ago I reviewed in this space Paula Mallea's book The War on Drugs: A Failed Experiment. (Now living in Ontario, Mallea practised law here in the 1980s and 90s. Her husband John was the president of Brandon University.) The War on Drugs is an excellent resource and is available at the Brandon Public Library.

Mallea describes the history of the War on Drugs, providing a background to today's opioid and meth crisis. Her book explains how the drug war has meant flooding society with more drugs and creating more addicts.

She also points out that the War on Drugs was meant to be unfairly waged. Police were to crack down on drug use among the poor and marginalized. But police were to turn a blind eye to drug use among the middle and upper class.

Mallea advocates for the option proven to work in other jurisdictions: decriminalization – or even better, legalization – of all drugs. Why has this concept not attracted more support? I think partly because politicians at all levels find it hard to discuss controversial issues. Also, because politicians want to appear “tough on crime.” And we citizens enable politicians when we don't challenge their hypocrisies, pretensions and fantasies.

Much reasoned passion in this debate comes from those personally affected. Katherine Steinhoff is an Ottawa mom whose 24-year-old son died of a drug overdose. She sums up the issue in an eloquent essay on the CBC News website. The title is Like you, I never thought the opioid crisis would knock at my door.
“If our elected leaders have been slow to act or have acted badly, it isn't because they are baffled about potential solutions,” Steinhoff writes. “They know that Portugal has dramatically reduced overdose fatalities by decriminalizing all drug use. . . They also know that legal regulation could provide a safer drug supply and reduce the mortality rate.”

Today is election day; political leaders are on our mind. We can lament that the War on Drugs and the opioid and meth crisis were largely ignored during the campaign. But I would ask that today we have compassion toward our politicians.

To run for election and to take on a leadership role in society is not easy. To be confronted by problems like drug addiction and overdose deaths is not easy. It must weigh on the conscience of our leaders to know that they are not being candid with the citizenry and that they are bungling the opioid and meth crisis. But our leaders are only human. And, in the end, they are not really leaders. They are followers. We – the public and our opinion – are the real leaders.

Today as you vote, please feel a sense of gratitude and compassion toward those who have put themselves forward as political leaders. But tomorrow and in the days following, please feel a sense of responsibility for those who face drug addiction and the threat of death by overdose.

Don't let us – or our leaders – off the hook for not ending the War on Drugs.

* * * *
See also: 

Don't Forget About Christine Mitchell

Review – The War on Drugs: A Failed Experiment

End the War on Drugs and Find a Better Solution

Drug Policies Require More Humility, Less Virtue Signaling

Reflections on the War on Drugs



David McConkey,
Brandon, Manitoba
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My Sites / Interests

Some Reviewed Books:

The War on Drugs:
A Failed Experiment

War on Drugs

Read the Review

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The Atheist Muslim:
A Journey from Religion to Reason


Read the Review

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Stranger Than We Can Imagine:
An Alternative History of the 20th Century


Read the Review

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Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now


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Islam and the Future of Tolerance:
A Dialogue

Islam Future

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Extraordinary Canadians:
Nellie McClung

Extraordinary Canadians Nellie Mcclung

Read the Review

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The Greatest Show on Earth:
The Evidence for Evolution

Greatest Show on Earth

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