A lot of attention has been paid to a string of recent deaths involving the drug known as Molly. In August, the final day of the music festival, Electric Zoo Festival, was canceled after two deaths and several overdoses were reported that were thought to be the result of Molly. In Boston, another death and two overdoses were reported that resulted in the club, House of Blues, being shut down temporarily and a public warning being sent out. In response to the influx of overdoses, government officials and law enforcement seek to ramp up legislature and enforcement in hopes of cracking down on production and distribution of the drug. But what if the so-called War on Drugs is really fueling the problem by leaving an opening for an industry that remains unregulated in its production of synthetic drugs like Molly, creating unsafe products that result in preventable deaths?
This is a question that is often met with mixed responses, so it is best to start with some well established facts on the topic:
First, drug abuse and addiction has devastating consequences on an individuals, their families, communities and society as a whole. It is not an illness to be ignored or trifled with. The warlike approach over treatment options used to address criminal drug activity has increased the burden on society through higher incarceration rates and lower recovery rates.
Next, the war on drugs is not nearly as successful as hoped in enforcing strict prohibition on the drugs, as evidenced by the continued availability of these illegal substances. According to the DEA, the price of cocaine has gone down 74 percent since three decades ago, meaning that supply is so steady that it exceeds demand enough to drop prices.
Finally, when a substance is made illegal, production, distribution and possession then become criminal activities. In 2010, over half of the people incarcerated were there because of drug related crimes. This number has dropped in recent years, thanks to shifting attitudes regarding the nature of addiction as a disease and not just a criminal act.
So how does a war on drugs result in deaths from drugs like Molly? Because people do drugs. Prohibition does not stop people from wanting to alter their consciousness and they continue to do those drugs regardless of the legal status or social stigmas attached to them. This is in part because drugs interact with the limbic system of the brain, the part of the brain that makes us perceive pleasure and want to do pleasurable things — eating, for example — over and over again.
To satisfy the continued demand of mind altering substances, illegal operations pop up and begin to produce drugs. The sources of these drugs range from major international organizations to sheds in the suburbs. Some of the drugs that are produced are made to circumvent the law, such as bath salts and synthetic marijuana, while others are meant to be cheaper replacements for drugs whose supply has been cut off for one reason or another. These drugs include crystal meth, Molly and krokodil. All of the drugs contain whatever the person making them feels like putting in them and many of those things have devastating consequences. Seriously, look up krokodil if any skepticism to this point remains.
Despite Molly being popularized by celebrities of late, most notably Miley Cyrus, and the recent rash of overdoses and deaths reported, law enforcement has actually seized less Molly in raids than in previous years. In 2012, 954 pounds were taken in raids compared to the 5,377 pounds taken just four years prior. The reason behind this drop is not that there are less drugs in circulation but that the drug Molly is containing less and less MDMA, the identifying chemical component of the drug.
Since none of the production is regulated, a drug can be called whatever it is called and sold as something it is not and there is no way to make any of it safer, given the current legal standards. This leads to people ingesting things unwittingly into their bodies making it impossible to know what will happen to them and often leading to preventable deaths.
It is impractical to dismiss these trends with a just-say-no attitude, just as it is impractical to expect prohibition to be effective after decades of failure in this mission. Addiction rates are relatively unchanged, drugs are still available and America has the highest incarceration rates in the world thanks to how criminalized all of these “controlled” substances are. If the war on drugs were ended and these substances were actually controlled, meaning legalized and regulated, there would be far fewer drug related deaths from instances where drugs like Molly are not what they should be.
Written by: Vanessa Blanchard