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That other war we’re losing

November 16, 2006

Arkansas high school senior Marc Hosken has just guaranteed himself total celibacy and a steady supply of beat-downs through all four years of college and perhaps well beyond. Hosken, a kind of narc prodigy, has developed a new mouth-swab drug test that is not only foolproof but produces results within 15 minutes. Hosken says his test can simultaneously test for cocaine (the end of wall street!), opiates (thousands of mom-and-pop opium dens out of business!), PCP (how will angels get perked up in the morning?), methamphetamine (good work – curse that filthy crank) and marijuana (oh, dear lord). Easily-enforced sobriety awaits us all thanks to a kid who should be trying to detect someone willing to sleep with his pimply ass rather than our collective intoxication.

Alright, alright – drug testing isn’t a bad thing per se. In certain circumstances I believe it’s warranted – airplane pilots, truck drivers, secretaries of defense – though it’s become far too broadly applied, an imposition on privacy that often has no demonstrable effect on performance. What would be most useful is if this new, less invasive test could be calibrated to establish current intoxication rather than the simple presence of narcotics in the system. In any event, thanks to the federal government’s billion-dollar ad campaign to discourage teen drug use, Hosken’s contemporaries will be registering many more positive results on his invention. No, that’s not a mistake – a recent report from the Government Accountability Office has determined that not only has the ad campaign been entirely ineffective, it may even have encouraged some teens to get high. Just Say No Sh-t! (Since I am not certain about my corporate overlords’ policy on profanity, I have opted for delicacy here.)

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) is the branch of Congress charged with determining whether the federal government’s policies are doing what they are intended to do. And while it’s amazing that anything called the Government Accountability Office hasn’t been vaporized by the Bush Administration by now, the comic gap between the deadly serious (and often unintentionally hilarious) anti-drug ads and their documented impact is itself quite arresting. From these ads we learn how marijuana is a gateway to stealing from Grannie, oral auto-fisting, and abandoning pink-balloon-clutching little sisters at creepy carnivals. Then there’s the self-refuting ads devoted to the premise that you should decide for yourself (and so not do drugs) and that refusing to use drugs is, you know, kind of rebellious (a slickly-produced government propaganda campaign being all you needed to be made aware of that fact). And if that’s not enough for you to lay off the demon bud, there’s some highly-punchable spoken-word teen poets, a crew of Hitler Youth surfers intent on never sullying their seed with weed, and the uplifting slogan “Above the Influence.” Then again, to be “above” the influence doesn’t one have to get higher? Perhaps just high and mighty. Students for Sensible Drug Policy has some quite amusing parodies of a couple of the campaign’s print ads here.

It’s easy to laugh at such silliness of course, if not the $1.2 billion price tag footed by the taxpayer. But the consequences of fighting an immensely misguided drug war can be deadly serious – losing a real one for example. Like the poppies from which heroin is made, reports keep cropping up and multiplying of the devastating effect drug war policies are having on coalition efforts to defeat the Taliban in southern Afghanistan. Compounding their failure to provide economic security for the people, coalition forces have insisted on prohibiting all poppy growing, spraying farmers’ fields so that the region’s one cash crop is destroyed and causing support for the Taliban insurgency to flourish. Military experts now warn that the chances of losing the war in Afghanistan are very real. Try explaining that to the kids in a 30-second spot.

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