I know I promised to write the follow-up to my last article about Good, Fast, and Cheap. But since then, I got caught up in all the drama between Mary Jane Veloso, the Indonesian government, and the Philippines government.
If you are unfamiliar with the Mary Jane Veloso story, basically she was caught by Indonesian customs officials with 2.6 kg of heroin trying to enter Indonesia. As a result, she was convicted and sentenced to death. Rappler did a good job in summing it up in their article The Story of Mary Jane Veloso, in her own words.
What interested me most was that the Indonesian government, led by President Joko Widodo, insisted on proceeding with Mary Jane’s execution, even though there was circumstantial evidence which may have proved her innocence or at least proved that she was a pawn in a bigger plan. His rationale was that Indonesia was experiencing an uptick in drug addiction and drug related deaths and executing Mary Jane was a form of deterrence.
I wondered if this was the best way to tackle a country’s drug problem.
Out of curiosity I checked out the statistics for smoking tobacco. While smoking is legal in most countries in the world, research has found that it is epidemic in some countries and a major contributor of pre-mature deaths in every country where smoking is legal.
However, in the United States, from 1965 to 2006, the % of smokers in the country have dropped from 40% to 20%. And according to USA Today, in 2012, the % of smokers in the USA is down to 18%.
So what caused this decline? Smoking is legal. No one gets executed for importing cigarettes. If caught, smugglers of contraband cigarettes get a jail sentence and do not have to stand in front of a firing squad. It’s obvious that the death sentence had no role in reduction of smoking in the US. Can the same principles apply to illegal drugs, like heroin?
Based on what I have read, here’s what I think a government can do to reduce and possibly eliminate drug addiction in their country …
1. Invest in anti-drug education
Teach often. Teach the teachers. Teach in schools, on the street corners, in the hospitals, on the trains, in the buses.
Start early. Show the after-effects of drug abuse. Do not relent.
And most importantly, educate everyone. Rich, poor, young, old, short, tall, skinny, fat. Leave no stone unturned.
A little knowledge can go a long way in curbing the demand and allure of drugs.
2. Create better jobs
Drug use disproportionately affects the poor. Per capital the majority of drug abuse (legal and illegal) occurs in poor developing countries. So what can a country do? Create good jobs.
There are many initiatives that a government can do to create better jobs. One of them is to create a better educated workforce. Another is to promote investment, both internal and foreign. And yet another is to establish a brand that is exportable and has value around the world.
There is some truth to the old adage “idle hands are the devil’s workshop.”
A good job not only keeps one occupied but it instills pride and self-worth. In addition, good jobs help raises the standard the living for all and pushes a developing country to a developed one.
3. Rehabilitate drug addicts
Not everyone who falls into drug addiction is a lost cause. Some studies have shown that of the alcoholics and drug addicts that seek help at rehabilitation clinics, about 50% recover. No doubt, it’s a tough road for those seeking to “kick the habit”, but with the proper program, education and support, the odds for recovery increase.
A commitment to rehabilitation sends a few messages: “we care for you”, “mistakes can be rectified”, and “we are an inclusive society”. Furthermore, the recovered are positive examples for others who face the uphill battle.
4. Improve border control
While education, better jobs and rehabilitation will have a profound effect on lowering the levels of drug addiction, there still needs to be vigilance at the borders. Illegal drugs need to be barred from crossing into a country.
Technology will help.
Better trained officers will help.
But I think one of the biggest contributors to a porous border is corruption. However, I don’t recommend getting rid of all officers and officials that are corrupt and hope to replace them with people who will resist temptation. If we did that, we would have no one protecting the borders. It’s very hard to overcome human nature.
The right incentives need to be in place. In most case, people are not bad, it’s the system that needs a reboot. So here’s what I suggest:
a. Hire the smartest people available. Use quantitative tests to identify the best possible candidates. Do not hire based on likeability or connections or alma maters.
b. Increase the staff’s pay. You get what you pay for. Higher pay can be a deterrent for corruption.
c. Commit to training. Teach best practices and learn the latest techniques. Instill pride in the team.
d. Re-evaluate all processes and procedures and replace the ones that incentivizes corruption. Inefficiency in the system encourages people to take short cuts. And short cuts lead to under-the-table opportunities. There are always better ways to do things.
The 4 things I mentioned above are difficult to accomplish. And the results will not come immediately. Furthermore, it requires commitment and unity from multiple government agencies and their leaders. It’s a long term approach. But here’s what it does: saves lives, improves the standard of living, creates a sustainable society that will overcome the drug problem and leaders who can tackle any other issues in the future.
If you have any questions or comments, you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to hear from you.
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