Two Former Drug Czars Want to Reignite the Drug War

By Zachary Siegel 09/14/15

If only heroin didn’t exist there wouldn’t be a heroin epidemic…

William J. Bennett
Go away already. Photo via

A recent op-ed written by former drug czars William J. Bennett and John P. Walters was titled, “Bring Back The War On Drugs.” Bennett was the director of drug control policy for George H.W. Bush and Walters held the same position for George W. Bush.

So it’s a curious statement to say “bring back the drug war” because the war on drugs is still being waged, evidenced by nearly half of those currently in jail being there for drug offenses. Additionally, violence and surveillance are both wantonly used both domestically and abroad to curtail drug production, distribution, and one cannot forget, consumption.

Despite these facts, “we seem powerless to do what we did back then…,” meaning during both Bush eras, which is“[to] attack supply.” The two ex-drug czars insist the Obama administration refuses to go hard on the offensive in favor of putting resources into anti-overdose medication and treatment. These efforts, they argue, will not prevent “the explosion of new heroin users, nor will it get addicts truly clean and sober.”

So what will work? Their logic is simple: “The heroin epidemic is inflicted upon us by criminal acts that produce an abundant supply of inexpensive drugs. Stopping these criminal acts will stop the epidemic.”

Since 1914, America has attacked the supply and over 100 years later here we stand, with drugs cheaper, higher in purity, and all the more accessible. The dichotomy of attacking the supply versus curbing the demand is a false one. The logic steaming their opinion piece is flawed insofar as they operate within this either-or: either you attack the supply (which has proven unsuccessful for 100 years) or you turn attention to demand, to help those addicted live meaningful lives.

The former drug czars also lament that Obama “has not increased military and law enforcement coverage at the border to stop heroin from Mexico—presumably because this might be seen as anti-immigrant.”

Or, it could be that such tactics have proven dubious, because what happens is the methods of smuggling change or other routes are discovered. From drones to submarines, the smugglers in Mexico will bring their product in, no matter how high the wall, and whether or not it has the name "TRUMP" stamped on it.

“As death and addiction spread, who will speak truthfully about this epidemic? President Obama has not,” they wrote.

But with Obama’s Heroin Response Strategy, money will be poured into education and prevention, and perhaps over time, people will learn to live with the existence of drugs as a fact of life, instead of wishfully thinking one day all drugs will be eradicated from America with brute force.

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Zachary Siegel is a freelance journalist specializing in science, health and drug policy. His reporting has also appeared in Slate, The Daily Beast, Salon, Huffington Post, among others. He writes often about addiction, sometimes drawing from his own experience. You can find out more about Zachary on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.