Breaking Bad and the War on Drugs

Breaking Bad

AMC’s hit television drama “Breaking Bad” is arguably more addictive than meth. Since the television sensation ended late last year, this writer is already beginning to experience withdrawals. A part from the complexity of the narrative and some of the finest acting seen on television, “Breaking Bad” was about how, under the appropriate circumstances, the most revered Saints can become the most deplorable persons. More pragmatically, however, “Breaking Bad” taught us that drug prohibition does not thwart drug use or violence.

Warning: Obvious spoilers to follow. For those unfamiliar with the program (and if one hasn’t watched the show yet, stop reading this article and do it now) “Breaking Bad” portrays a high school chemistry teacher, Walter White, who is just short of a Nobel Prize and diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. In an effort to pay medical expenses and leave his family with a hefty financial inheritance, Walter utilizes his background in chemistry to manufacture the purest meth in the states and slowly climbs to the top of the drug trade under the alias “Heisenberg”. To add fuel to the methamphetamine fire, Walter has a DEA brother-in-law Hank, who unknowingly follows the footprints of Heisenberg. Accompanying this game of cat catches mouse is a trail of violence, drugs, money and shattered relationships.

Perhaps the most notable lesson that “Breaking Bad” taught us is that drug prohibition does not thwart intoxication and violence from running amok. In fact, it could be argued that drug prohibition actually accelerates intoxication and violence. In each episode, we see Walter gradually step down into the amoral abyss through a series deplorable acts and ethical compensations. Drug lords and kingpins do not have much respect for the law—that’s what makes them criminals. Nevertheless, it is precisely because of drug prohibition that certain drugs are pushed into the black market where occupation rights do not exist.

In addition, kingpins actually depend upon drug prohibition. The reason that money flourishes within the drug trade is that it is more expensive to make when it is prohibited. As a corollary, some drug dealers lace their products with cheaper ingredients. If drugs were regulated on the open market, fraud charges could be emplaced on drug dealers who lace their product.

Another feature that makes “Breaking Bad” great television is its portrayal of the medical industry in the Unites States. Medical dramas such as “Grey’s Anatomy” and “House” focus on patients with rare illnesses rather than the costs necessary to treat those illnesses. As noted earlier, Walter is originally pushed into the drug trade in order to pay for his medical expenses. Yet there are real Walter White’s out there. Going to extremes to pay off astronomical medical expenses in not a fiction but a reality that plagues so many Americans.

It should be emphasized that this author by no means encourages illegal drug use. The point to be driven is that drug prohibition accelerates the consumption of noxious chemicals and violence. Rather than glamorize drugs, “Breaking Bad” is a painful representation of the actual war on drugs. Like most dramas, “Breaking Bad” is a mixed batch of humor and tragedy. This author rather laugh than cry at our own sick drama.

By Nathan Cranford


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