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Another Dollar, Another Death: The Humanitarian Cost of Addiction

Another Dollar, Another Death: The Humanitarian Cost of Addiction

The consequences of drug use extend far beyond the addict. Addiction hurts individuals, to be sure; it leads to lost money, lost time, lost health, and lost life. But there are broader negative consequences associated with the purchase of illicit drugs. In order to make informed decisions regarding your drug habits, it is worth taking these consequences into account. You may find that your choices have far more devastating repercussions than you realize.

The Market

The conflicting realities of illegality and demand make drug trade a place of high risk and high reward.  Governments impose severe penalties for those involved with drug production and trafficking.  Meanwhile, users and addicts compose a fertile market, offering lucrative sums to maintain supplies of recreational substances.  As a result, the drug trade attracts a rough set of individuals: people willing to risk criminality in order to satisfy a drug-needy public—and make a fortune doing it.

The Money

Drug trafficking is about money.  Your money.  Drug cartels in the United States and south of the border rely on your dollars to support their operations; to pay growers and go-betweens, dealers and distributors, politicians and police.  But your money goes toward more than paying the bills (at some drug lord’s gated estate).  Your money also buys weapons.  Remember—it’s high risk, high reward.  There’s a lot of cash out there for anyone who can complete a transaction, and certain people will do anything for that cash.  So, they buy weapons, and they use them.  Drug cartels—illicit corporationsform in pursuit of distinct interests, and individual cartels battle against each other and the state.  You might ask, why?  What could they possibly want that could justify so much suffering?

But you already know.  It’s right there, in your pocket.

South of the Border

According to a CNN World story from January of this year, wholesale yearly profits for Mexican and Colombian drug cartels total around 39 billion annually.  Where does this money come from?  It comes from us.  According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the majority of America’s cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, and marijuana comes from Mexico and Colombia.  

How does illicit drug trade affect these countries?  In a single year (2010) in Mexico, drug-related violence resulted in an estimated 15,273 fatalities.  Many of these deaths occurred between rival cartels; shootouts, staged prison riots, planned killings.  But the violence affects people outside of drug rings as well.  Peace activists have been kidnapped and tortured.  Over 100 mayors have been executed.  Tens of migrants have been found in mass graves; having been kidnapped, used, and discarded, they are discovered dead, their bodies slumped over one another in the shallow dust.  Cause of death?  Blunt trauma to the head.

Unconvinced?  Over the period from 2006 to 2010, 47.7% of Mexico’s drug related deaths took place in Mexican states bordering the US, and 28.1% of those occurred within 50km of the U.S. border.  This is no coincidence.  U.S. drug demand burns white-hot; beyond our borders, the consequences of drug trafficking boil.  Indeed, it is fascinating how life expectancy in the U.S. appears so comfortably high, and yet beyond our walls, the death toll climbs the closer you get to our bright border.

The Message

Your drug choices affect more than yourself.  Depending on the origin of your substance, your money may subsidize death and suffering for people you will never know.  Remember that drug use remains, even in the case of addiction, a choice.  You may have already given up on yourself– you may have chosen to sacrifice your money, your time, your health, your life, for your addiction.  But are you going to sacrifice that of others as well?  As long as your money goes into cartels’ hands, you are supporting the current system.  You are paying for those mass graves.  Is that what you intend?  Will you continue to support this system?  Or will you make the effortand it won’t be easy—to change?  It’s a big question.  Think it over.

Addiction Resources

Click for state-by-state addiction treatment information.

Click for more information about the Mexican drug war.
See below for further reading on drug economics.


1. Frantz, Ashley. “The Mexico Drug War: Bodies for Billions.” CNN World.
2. Henderson, David. “The Economics of Illegal Drugs.” Library of Economics and Liberty
3. Johnston, Robert. “Data on Mexican Drug War Violence.” Johnston Archive.
4. Luhnow, David. “Saving Mexico.” The Wall Street Journal.
5. “Mexico Under Seige.” LA Times World.
6. Mirken, Bruce. “Stop Subsidizing Mexican Drug Gangs.” Alternet.
7. “National Drug Threat Assessment 2010.” U.S. Department of Justice: National Drug Intelligence Center.
8. “The Source: Where Drugs Come From.” eDrug Rehab.

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