WAR ON DRUGS: THE NEW OPIUM WAR?

by

Joseph Miranda and Timothy Sandefur

INDEX
  • part 2 of article/footnotes


    The old saying tells us to "look where the money is" when investigating anything suspicious. But that is not so easy to do when investigating the "War on Drugs." While federal spending on drug control programs in 1997 approximated $15 billion, that sum does not take into account independent expenditures by private organizations. Confusing the picture even more are the crossed wires of the anti-drug movement: while the government supports tobacco growers with various price support programs, it also pays for campaigns to ban cigarettes.

    Yet in the midst of the confusion, some seem to be profiting. Perhaps most famous among those gaining by the drug war is the Partnership for a Drug Free America, the powerful, well-funded conglomerate which created the famous "This is your brain on drugs" advertisement. While many of the Partnership's donors are relatively disinterested companies seeking a tax-break, a surprising number are pharmaceutical industries and other groups which have a vested interest in suppressing alternative drugs. In fact, one of the Partnership's original founders, James Burke, was a chairman and CEO of Johnson & Johnson, a leading pharmaceutical company.

    According to an article in the March 9, 1992 "The Nation" magazine, pharmaceutical companies like DuPont, Johnson & Johnson, Smith Kline Beecham, and Proctor & Gamble are among donors of more than $100,000 each to the Partnership. "Pharmaceuticals and their beneficiaries alone donated 54 percent of the $5.8 million the Partnership took...from 1988 to 1991."

    Why would pharmaceutical interests donate money to an organization dedicated to supporting the prohibition of illegal drugs? Simple: companies are always looking for ways to decrease competition, and legally enforced monopolies are among the best. The Partnership's noticeable lack of emphasis on the dangers of tobacco or alcohol raises eyebrows. Tobacco alone kills some 390,000 people in a year, alcohol comes second with 80,000. Yet less than five percent of these two combined--about 10,000 annually--are killed in emergency room crises generated by illegal drugs.(1) More recently, the Partnership for a Drug Free America has renounced the use of alcohol/tobacco funds, but the fact of the matter is that much of corporate America profits from the promotion and sale of these substances. Corporate owned grocery chains, gasoline stations and even drug stores routinely sell alcohol and tobacco products.

    The irony is that according to U.S. government studies, "...alcohol is the only [psychoactive substance] whose consumption has been shown to commonly increase aggression."(2) Incidents of violence with most illegal drugs occur in people who were predisposed to violence prior to drug use. Furthermore, "Illegal drugs and violence are linked primarily through [the illegality of] drug marketing..." leading to disputes among distributors, buyers, and sellers, as well as inflation of drug prices. These findings are born out by Department of Justice statistics which demonstrate that people under the influence of alcohol commit a disproportionate number of crimes as compared to those using drugs alone‹(approximately 21% under the influence of alcohol alone as opposed to 8% for drugs alone; combination of the two amounts for anther 6%. A further 46% are "not known.").(3)

    The Partnership for a Drug Free America obviously focuses itself on the wrong villains--yet it is perhaps the most powerful voice in attacking illegal drug use. Why? The answer is given by Mathea Falco, who served as Secretary of State for International Narcotics Matters: "It would be suicidal if the Partnership took on the alcohol and tobacco industries. The Partnership is living off free advertising product and space, and the media and ad agencies live off alcohol and tobacco advertising."(4)

    DISINFORMATION CAMPAIGNS

    The use of anti-drug advertising to encourage use of competing drugs is not a new phenomenon. Studies on products are frequently commissioned by competitors, and the "evidence" these studies yield are presented to us every day: "Brand X is better than the leading brand!" Adding a pejorative to the name of any competitor's product is a longed-for opportunity.

    But now, with the public fear of drugs individual companies can exploit this public outrage and profit easily by it. Numerous examples of Partnership misinformation are available. Some of the more prominent ones include:
    € One Partnership ad, called "cocaine lies," claimed that one in every five experimenters get hooked on cocaine. The actual rate is about ten percent, nearly equal to that of alcohol.
    € A print ad claimed that in 1989 five million Americans who used cocaine required medical help. But in reality, cocaine was responsible for a total of 62,141 medical emergencies in that year (which amounts to less than one percent of total emergency room cases).
    € A television spot shows what the Partnership claims to be the electroencephalograph (EEG) of someone smoking marijuana, with the brain wave pattern flat (i.e., indicating total brain death). It turned out that the EEG was not plugged in; the ad was using faked evidence.
    € A Peter Jennings promotional video written by the Partnership states that the first time that a "kid smokes crack he has a good chance of getting hooked." No evidence is provided to support this assertion, such as the number of first time crack users who became addicted as opposed to the total populace of users.
    € Partnership radio spots in the Los Angeles area exploit fear of drug users hijacking cars and stealing personnel property, implying that the current crime wave is generated by drug addicts. But, as will be demonstrated later in this article, the reality is that drug users commit only a small percentage of crime in America.
    € Similarly, Partnership advertisements show the handful of entertainers who have died as the (alleged) result of drugs, but ignore the thousands who used drugs and lived. And Partnership television ads attempt to blame employee drug use for workplace inefficiency while ignoring management offenses like occupational safety violations which kill and injure thousands yearly.

    The list could go on, but the point is clear: the Partnership routinely deceives the American people. By painting some drugs as evil and leaving others undiscussed, the donors to the Partnership can eliminate potential competitors with the help of the Federal Government and law enforcement. Cannabis (marijuana), which, if legal as a painkiller, would compete powerfully with Tylenol, a product of Johnson & Johnson. A 1984 bill which would have legalized heroin use among cancer patients was resoundingly defeated, pleasing several powerful pharmaceutical interests. More recently, the federal government has attempted to override voters in California and Arizona who voted to legalize the medical uses of marijuana.

    Given the low lethality of cannabis and LSD, millions of recreational tobacco and alcohol users would certainly switch were such drugs legal. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services "Annual Medical Examiner Data," five times as many people are reported dead in emergency room crises from legal tranquilizers than from cannabis, and virtually no one has ever died from LSD use.(5)

    The fact that the Partnership for a Drug Free America would deliberately misinform the public in its Public Service Announcements should not be considered surprising given the Partnership's corporate sponsors. The advertising industry, by its very nature, must make extravagant promises for corporate products, claims which often have little connections to reality (such as the promotion of beer on the grounds that consumption of this commodity will make the drinker more attractive to the opposite sex). Therefore, it can be expected that the corporate sector would continue these fabrications in their campaign against competing illegal drugs.

    THE REAL CRIME WAVE

    The motivation for a corporate sponsored media campaign to blame drugs for America's problems goes beyond the money to be made by promoting legal drugs. There is a definite advantage in stigmatizing illegal drugs users.

    Major corporations are responsible for much, if not the majority of, crime in America, certainly far more crime than that generated by the illegal drug trade. Department of Justice statistics show that about $15 billion annually is stolen through robbery, auto theft, larceny and burglary. (6) About a quarter of this is drug related ($4 or so billion).(7) Compare these figures to the estimated minimum of $250 billion per year lost via corporate or white white crime (contract fraud, embezzlement, antitrust violations, etc.). (8) In effect, corporate/white collar crime is responsible for the loss of at least 60 times as much money to the public as drug related crime. Yet most people are virtually unaware of the extent of the damage done to society by corporate crime.

    Corporate crime is also responsible for thousands of deaths annually due to management violations of workplace safety regulations, illegal toxic dumping, fraudulent testing of lethal legal drugs, marketing of unsafe consumer products, and the creation of environmental hazards. An estimated 56,000 Americans die each year on the job or from occupational diseases such as job-related cancers and brown and black lung disease. This is more than all the Americans killed by illegal drugs.(9) And the corporate sector's partner in the government has its share of blame. The U.S. government has recently admitted (and apologized for) decades of illegal radiation, drug and other experiments which have killed or injured many Americans.(10)

    Every study of corporate crime has demonstrated that many if not a majority of major American corporations have been guilty of multiple counts of false advertising, fraud, and violations of environmental, worker safety and labor law. (11) For example, Northrop has been indicted for allegedly falsifying tests on cruise missile components and has plead guilty to to defrauding the government over Harrier jets. General Electric (a member of the Partnership for a Drug Free America) has dumped toxic chemicals in community water supplies, been charged with antitrust violations such as price fixing, and has fired personnel who have exposed unsafe nuclear practices.(12)

    And there are millions if not billions of dollars to be made by corporate sponsored fraud. Ortho Pharmaceutical Corporation, a subsidiary of Partnership for a Drug Free America¹s own founder¹s company, Johnson & Johnson, was fined $5 million and ordered to pay $2.5 million in restitution after pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice, one count of obstruction of justice and eight counts of corruptly persuading employees to destroy documents after a grand jury began investigation of a 1985-1988 public relations campaign promoting the use of Ortho's Retin-A.(13)

    All this poses an ethical dilemma for the military. What is the proper response of members of the armed forces when confronted by corporate propaganda that routinely lies and misinforms people‹not to mention the fraud, environmental pollution, and other corporate practices which injure and kill thousands of people? Ethically, the armed forces are obligated to dissociate themselves from such liars and criminals. Yet, by virtue of the war on drugs, the military is obligated to work with them. Should PSYOP personnel refuse to disseminate Public Service Announcements that have false data and instead expose these lies? Should military police apprehend the perpetrators of corporate crimes? And if not, will the armed forces be corrupted by this association?

    The real moral dilemma here is not so much in the lies, but the drug enforcement mission itself. Is it the role of the government to place in jail or even launch military assaults against people who compete with the corporate sector?

    THE PERSONAL CONNECTION

    There are also other partnerships between corporations, the government and drugs. Consider the following:
    € Former President George Bush served on the board of directors for Eli Lilly and Company, 1977-79, a major pharmaceutical company. (14) In 1985, Eli Lilly plead utility to concealing the hazards of Oraflex, one of its painkillers, which caused death and injury to several hundred Americans. Eli Lilly received a total fine of $40,000.(15)
    € Philip Morris, a leading tobacco company, hired Craig Fuller, George Bush's chief of staff to oversee its government relations.(16)
    € The rather well known connections between tobacco interests and anti-illegal drug policies of several leading senators from southern states.
    € Senator and presidential candidate Robert Dole is a client of the Gallo Brothers wineries. Gallo has given $1.3 million to Dole's campaigns, foundations and PACs in the last two decades. In return, Dole has supported legislation on agricultural subsidies and other laws which have saved Gallo millions of dollars. Senator Dole, in the 1996 Presidential campaign, promoted a more aggressive war against illegal drugs. (17)

    Whether or not these relationship also imply a direct influence on the United States government to enact policies against illegal drugs that are competing with legal pharmaceuticals and intoxicants remains to be proven. But the fact of the matter is that this is an issue that ought to be at least discussed in public forums. For example, when high public officials with connections to pharmaceutical companies oppose the medical use of drugs like heroin and cannabis, is it because they are ultimately serving the cause of corporate profits?

    As Tony Poveda points out in his book, "Rethinking White Collar Crime," "...there is another 'war' relating to drugs that has paralleled the more publicized attacks on the use and distribution of illegal drugs. This less visible war entails, ironically, a massive promotion of drug use‹albeit legal drugs, both prescription over-the-counter. The war is the intense competition among pharmaceutical and generic companies for market share and profit." (18)

    THE REAL DRUG WAR

    If we want to look at drug/chemical crimes, then we must again examine the role of the corporations. Consider several examples:
    € Manufacture of lethal products. C.R. Bard Inc., a member of the Partnership for a Drug Free America, admitted to making faulty heart catheters and then covering up the defects. Two deaths and several emergency cases have been traced to these defective devices. (19)
    € Dumping of pharmaceuticals. United States pharmaceutical corporations routinely ship large amounts of drugs to third world countries, even when those pharmaceuticals are dangerous. This practice is called "dumping" and is done to dispose of surplus inventory or to take tax breaks. According to the World Health Organization, up to 45% of such dumped drugs are either worthless or expired. Often, such drugs are not labeled in the local language, leading to incidents of injury, birth defects, and even death due to improper use. (20)
    € The Nestle baby formula crisis. During the 1970s, the Nestle corporation organized an extensive campaign to sell baby formula to third world countries, this despite warnings from health professionals that local populaces lacked access to the sterile water and containers needed to properly utilize the formula. The end result was widespread infant disease. (21)
    € The Dalkon Shield. The Dalkon Shield was a defective birth control device produced by the A.H. Robins company. A.H. Robins company engaged in fraudulent testing of the product since its inception, resulting in injuries to an estimated two hundred thousand women. After sales of the Dalkon Shield had been stopped in the United States, the device was marketed overseas, in partnership with the U.S. Agency for International Development, leading to injuries to uncounted thousands of more women‹not to mention numerous unplanned pregnancies.(22)
    € The Bhopal mass killing. In 1984 the Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal India released a cloud of toxic gases that was responsible for killing several thousand residents, injuring tens of thousands more, and causing numerous birth defects. Investigation demonstrated criminal culpability on the part of Union Carbide, which ended up paying a heavy fine.

    These incidents briefly illustrate the grotesque double standard in play during the war on drugs. While the United States government has no hesitation in giving long jail sentences to casual drug users, and even launching military attacks against peasants who produce drug related crops, when it comes to dealing with corporate caused drug deaths and damage, then it is a completely different story. Rarely is any legal action taken against such corporations. Even when actions taken, it is most frequently in the form of injunctions and fines than in jail sentences. Despite the fact that they have caused literally thousands of deaths, pharmaceutical corporate executives are not indicted or jailed as "drug lords."

    One might want to question why courts in the United States are more than willing to hand out long jail sentences to mothers who use drugs during pregnancy, but take no legal action against major corporations whose policies cause birth defects on a far greater scale. The answer, of course, is that since these corporations are in "partnership" with the government, they can expect to be immune from prosecution. Corporate executives responsible for the injury and death to thousands do not have their doors kicked down by heavily armed SWAT teams, are not subjected to being forced out of their vehicles at gunpoint at police checkpoints, and do not have to worry about military sweeps being conducted against their own neighborhoods.

    Despite the rhetoric of a world wide campaign against crime, the United States is definitely not launching a "war" against corporate drug criminals. For example, why not have a television campaign in which public service announcements attack corporate violation of occupational safety regulations? Or DARE style programs which educate workers about fighting management abuses? Or military support for law enforcement operations against corporate executives who flout labor and environmental laws in third world countries? Of course, such operations would not even be conceivable. When it comes to the war on drugs, the traditional American value of equal justice under the law does not apply.

    Is there anything unusual about this double standard, the partnership of state and corporations in launching wars to protect and expand markets? There are many historical precedents for the war on drugs, which include:
    € The 1839-42 Opium War, in which the British military forced the Manchu government of China to open its ports to the importation of opium in partnership with the Honorable East India Company.
    € The partnership of the Belgian government and mercantile interests to establish and exploit the Belgian Congo as a commercial enterprise in the 19th century, leading to the deaths and enslavement of millions of Africans.
    € The partnership between the German government and industry (e.g., firms such as I.G. Farben) to make German "Judenfrei" ("Jew Free") in 1933-45. This partnership included exclusion of Jews from employment (via testing of workers for "non-Aryan" ancestry), enhanced powers to the police, separation of children from parents, confiscation of property, and exploitation of forced labor in concentration camps.
    € The 1954 coup in Guatemala, in which the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency worked in partnership with United Fruit and Guatemalan rebels to overthrow the leftist government of Jacobo Arbenz Guzman.

    While the United States has supported military attacks against the peoples of drug producing countries (such as Colombia), it supports the exportation of American drugs into foreign markets. Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974 empowers the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative to use punitive tariffs against any country thought to have imposed barriers to American tobacco exports. American tobacco companies are now making concerted efforts to expand sales into Asia and Latin America.

    Throughout the underdeveloped world, coca, cannabis, and other drugs have numerous medicinal, social and religious uses. U.S. military and law enforcement personnel who are now in combat against Latin American drug cartels are simply pawns in a new version of the Opium War. American soldiers and lawmen are being placed at risk to suppress the Partnership's foreign competitors. Thousands of people abroad have been killed or displaced by U.S. supported forces in pursuit of victory in the drug war. But the only beneficiaries will be the groups which comprise the Partnership for a Drug Free America, and their partners in the government.

    And the benefits to this war are many. The war on drugs has succeeded in diverting public attention away from crimes committed by corporate America (such as the 1980s Savings & Loan crisis, estimated to cost the public between $200 billion and $1 trillion). Public frustrations over abusive corporate polices, such as downsizing and export of jobs abroad, can be directed against convenient scapegoats in the form of a nebulous conspiracy of drug addicts, urban gangs and narco-terrorists.

    In the militarized atmosphere of "war," repressive measures, such as union busting and incarceration of the underclass (the latter often including workers dispossessed by corporate downsizing) appear justified. There is even money to be made as the number of prisons expands and the prison industry booms. Aside from the money made directly by prison construction and privatization of guard services, the corporate sector reaps enormous profits by exploiting cheap prison labor.

    Organized labor is placed on the defensive by such programs as workplace drug testing, again switching attention away from crimes committed by corporate leaders and making it appear as if industrial accidents are the responsibility of the workers and not negligent management. Drug testing, along with informer programs and mandatory prison sentences for drugs, maintain an atmosphere of quasi-secret police control, in which all are suspicious of all others and the state appears as savior from the threat of drugs.

    Similarly, law enforcement policies that violate the Bill of Rights can be rationalized as necessities in the "war" against drugs. (23) The propaganda offensive against drugs justifies extreme measures. It also allows police agencies to enrich themselves via such programs as asset forfeiture, which authorizes such agencies to seize property without due process. (24) Abroad, U.S. intervention in third world countries can be justified under the broad umbrella of "fighting drugs." Forces opposed to the globalization of the world economy are branded as "narco-guerrillas" and can be attacked.

    Significantly, recent U.S. government press releases on the internationalization of law enforcement concentrate on the dangers poised by drug trafficking, terrorism, and organized crime. Corporate sponsored crime, as well as malfeasance by law enforcement itself, are rarely mentioned and are not, apparently, to be targets of U.S. operations.(25) All this is in accord with the alliance between public and private sectors as cemented in the Partnership for a Drug Free America.

    The "partnership" that exists between government and industry is ominous for democracy. Government enforces labor discipline by criminalizing activities outside the workplace (i.e., drug use) and uses the police and armed forces to attack the corporate sector's economic and political competitors (i.e., the drug cartels and third world insurgent movements, respectively). In return, the corporate sector launches a massive propaganda campaign and denies employment to workers who refuse to collaborate. There is nothing unusual about this type of alliance: it has been a staple of 20th Century political-economic organization, most notably in the USSR 1921-91 and Germany 1933-45.

    WAR IS THE CONTINUATION...

    But the real issue goes beyond the question of suppressing competing pharmaceuticals and deals with the very nature of modern corporate capitalism. Modern capitalism is centered around the production, sale and consumption of commodities, physical items which, through advertising, are promised to provide satisfaction to various human needs and wants--sexual attractiveness, status, security, etc. For example, advertisements for luxury automobiles emphasize that they are a symbol of power to the possessor. Of course, the reality is that these commodities do not provide lasting satisfaction, so the consumer must continue the cycle of buying in hopes of attaining the promised mental or physical state.

    The threat that drugs pose is that drugs are not commodities in this sense. Drugs provide an experience that is not material--the drug experience is internal and transcends whatever can be provided by commodity capitalism. Indeed, many of the proponents of the drug "revolution" of the 1960s, such as Timothy Leary, promoted drug usage precisely on these grounds, that it was a way to break free of the worldview that accepted the production-consumption cycle of commodity capitalism as the natural order of the universe.(26) And this more than anything else is why the corporate sector has allied itself with the state to suppress illegal drugs. The ultimate objective in the war on drugs is, as in any war, political: to seize and maintain power.

    In the final analysis, the drug war is a politically efficacious use of American men-at-arms. By exploiting public fears, media disinformation, and visible (rather than efficient) police tactics, the drug war's initiators in government are able to boast a law-and-order reputation. Meanwhile, their allied corporations gain from the suppression of the competition.

    As Abraham Lincoln said, "When it comes to this, I shall prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense at loving liberty--to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, without the base alloy of hypocrisy."


  • part 2 of arti