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The prohibition of drugs has also led to an increase of violence and murders around the world. Gangs and cartels have no access to legal court systems to settle disputes, so they use violence. This led to an ever-expanding spiral of brutality. Based on some estimates, the homicide rate in the US is now 25-75% higher because of the War on Drugs. And even worse, in Mexico, an estimated 164,000 have been murdered between 2007 and 2014. More people than in both the war zones of Afghanistan and Iraq during the same period, combined. But where the war on drugs seems to do the most damage to society is the outrageous incarceration of nonviolent drug offenders.
The United States, one of the driving forces of the War on Drugs, has 5% of the world’s total population, yet carries 25% of the world’s prison population, largely due to the harsh punishments and mandatory minimums. Minorities suffer from this especially. African Americans inmates make up 40% of all US prisons. And while white kids are much more likely to abuse drugs, black kids are 10 times more likely to get arrested for drug offenses. But the question remains; Is there something different we can do? Is there a way out of this? In the 1980s, Switzerland experienced a public health crisis directly related to heroin use. HIV rates had skyrocketed and street crime became a major issue when it wasn’t before. Swiss authorities tried a new and improved strategy: harm reduction.
Free heroin maintenance centers were opened. In these centers addicts would be treated and stabilized. People would be given free heroin of high quality, they would be given clean needles and access to safe injection rooms, showers, beds, and medical supervision. Social workers would help them to find housing and deal with other life problems. The results were a sharp drop in all drug related crime, and two thirds of the people in the centers got regular jobs. They cleaned up their lives because now they could focus on getting better instead of financing their addiction.
Today, over 70% of all heroin addicts in Switzerland receive substantial treatment, HIV infections have drastically dropped, deaths from heroin overdoses have dropped by 50%, and drug related street sex work and crime has been reduced enormously.
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