Politicians and celebrities have in common that, often, life in the spotlight overwhelms them and takes them into the dark of substance abuse. This can present an enormous ethical problem – free use of drugs by politicians leads to shame and public disgrace, though rarely do they serve jail time.
Everyday citizens, though, are almost guaranteed to wind up in jail, and the jailable crimes concerning drugs are numerous. Possession, attempted possession, attempted possession with intent to sell or distribute…you can pick from a laundry list of options for which people are routinely arrested, tried, and convicted.
Non-violent drug offenses consume more space in our prison system every year, and have a devastating effect on local economies and families. Families lose a member, sometimes a member whose responsibility it is to provide for the family. The loss of a parent is also devastating – not only for the loss of income, but a partner, and caretakers of children or elderly people. A business loses a worker, and other area businesses lose money.
Where this pattern is remarkably absent is in the political world. It seems that every couple of months, a local newspaper will report that a prominent person has been caught using drugs, or over-consuming alcohol. The initial reporting, though, tends to be the end – while law enforcement may enter the equation, there is still a sense of contention in sending political figures to serve a jail sentence. One concern is their safety – it’s not unusual for violent inmates to attack someone they feel wronged them, or took part. Any prison, though, is safe for no one, and everyday people living with addiction to drugs and alcohol are in as much danger of encountering hostile parties as is someone in jail for laundering campaign money.
The problem with elite drug use with no repercussions has even moved some lawmakers in different countries to speak on the problem, and suggest that elected officials be subject to random drug testing. From a little marijuana on occasion to daily use of meth, the exact extent to which illicit drugs are used by elected officials varies, but the common thread of secrecy, deception, and eventual discovery plays a role in every case.
Political corruption is everywhere, though drug use by politicians in the United States and Canada rarely connects, outright, to corruption. This, though, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen. The stress of both being in the spotlight, and then having to make large, important decisions for a group of people can drive the best of us to drinking and using drugs.
Many prominent politicians, including Sarah Palin, George W. Bush, and Trey Radel, have either admitted to using cocaine, or have been caught, and faced punishment for it. D.C. Mayor Marion Berry and Toronto Mayor Rob Ford were both caught using crack cocaine, and used alcohol excessively. The punishments for those caught, though, has been mild: ousted from office, but allowed very short prison terms, or in most cases, probation. Some people have a problem with this: it is indisputable that politicians (and other wealthy people) suffer far less in the way of punishment for their own drug offences, and for their addictions, while anyone else might be jailed for the rest of their life, especially considering that some states have life-sentence provisions for multiple drug offenses.
What’s more, the United States has the problem of lobbyists in the drug industry. Lobbyists, specifically for the pharmaceutical industries, have been paid hundreds of millions of dollars over the years to push for big business-friendly legislation that maximizes their profits, and minimizes their responsibilities. This led to a push – a push for more money and resources to do what they want, and within that, drug companies pushed the use of opioid painkillers.
This is significant because the present-day Opioid Crisis is a direct result of lackadaisical regulation of lobbying and power handed to drug companies, but also because of the push on the part of big pharma on doctors and emergency care workers to prescribe the highly-addictive, sometimes ineffective opioid painkillers. This is where many, if not most, opioid-dependant people get their start: abusing prescription drugs. From there, it is just a matter of refilling the prescription as often as possible, putting the lives of thousands at risk. One would imagine that, elsewhere, this might be enough to interrupt the unmitigated funneling of resources into these companies, who could righteously be viewed as irresponsible.
Mexican drug cartels could never have had the kind of violent chokehold on the country without the cooperation of several politicians, some of them high up in the Mexican federal government. The flip side of this unfortunate fact is the consequences any politician could face if they refuse to work with the cartels, or if they try to take on the massive criminal organizations: over one hundred politicians were murdered in Mexico last year. Despite having ties to these incredibly dangerous organizations, the people working the dangerous political scene in Mexico never acknowledge their ties to organized crime.
Drug addiction in Mexico is a poorly-addressed problem, with abuse of patients functioning as a central method of dealing with people recovering from alcohol and drug addiction. With government officials assisting cartels, various police forces in Mexico also join in, and with the politicians to cover for them, the corruption is nothing short of nightmarish.
The United States is far from the only country dealing with a spike in opioid overdose deaths – Canada’s problem, at certain points, is even worse. And Canada isn’t the only other country dealing with politicians and citizens that use – Australia and Russia have been negatively affected by the presence of opioids and methamphetamines in their countries.
The most prominent politician in Canada to publicly battle drug addiction is Rob Ford, the Toronto mayor caught smoking crack cocaine in 2013, but the opioid crisis rages on in Canada. Just as in the United States, the victims of the opioid crisis are usually young, white, and rural, changing the face of what most people assumed about the use of drugs.
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