Recent studies show that drug addiction impacts more than one’s social and economic standing. The idea that addiction affects a single person is long gone, but until recently, there hasn’t been much information on the drug industry’s influence over the well-being of our planet.
In fact, through these latest analyses, we are now able to see that drugs, both legal and illegal, are making major changes in our environment. The effects of the industry reach the far corners of the globe, depleting natural resources and contaminating those which are a life source for many people.
Let’s be clear: what we’re talking about is morally ambiguous. I believe that a human being, with very few exceptions, should be free to do what they will with their body; I’m not beating the Zero Tolerance drum.
All I really want to do is acknowledge the complexity of the issue. It’s clear enough by now that the Drug War has failed, but until we find something better, our only real weapon is awareness.
Deforestation, Soil Erosion, and Water Quality
The environmental impact has hit several countries: Columbia, Honduras, and Brazil, to name a few. In 2008, the deforestation of 8,000 Cambodian trees to make sassafras oil for ecstasy resulted in the United States confiscating the resulting 33 tons of oil in an effort to end the destruction.
According to the United Nation’s Office on Drug and Crime survey, Colombian forests were also destroyed to create a fifth of the coca fields in the country, further threatening the world’s already vanishingly small rainforests.
However, drug addiction and the constant production needed to sate our collective appetite harms more than the wildlife and forests. The damage extends to our water supplies, as well. In fact, deforestation directly correlates with issues of poor water quality and soil erosion. LiveScience put together an excellent article explaining how deforestation, soil erosion, and water quality relate, noting that “Soil erosion can also lead to silt entering the lakes, streams, and other water sources. This can decrease local water quality, contributing to poor health in the local population.”
The Problem with “Legal” Drugs
And it’s not just illegal drugs that are causing a problem.
Though marijuana has recently been legalized in parts of the United States, there are still many places growing marijuana that have yet to be regulated.
Without the regulations, toxic emissions pervade the air, causing negative effects equivalent to that of 3 million cars, according to Colin Sullivan’s article with the New York Times. The article, which looks at the results of a study by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, states that, “indoor marijuana cultivation consumes enough electricity to power 2 million average-sized U.S. homes.”
To make matters worse, even prescription drugs, which are regulated, if disposed of improperly, take a massive toll on the environment as well. In South Carolina, alone, there are over 128 million drugs prescribed annually, with roughly 40% of that 128 million going unused. This comes from a report by the Yadkin Riverkeepers, a non-profit organization whose mission is to educate the population on the effects of water pollution.
Even people who take prescribed medication regularly are sometimes unsure of how to properly dispose of what they no longer need. A lot of it gets flushed away and makes its way into the water streams. This creates unnecessary exposure in repetitive, low doses, to those medications. This, in turn, leads bacteria to become immune to the effects of the medicine. This low-level antibiotic exposure is linked to about 65,000 deaths each year, and effectively denies us protection from the diseases the medication was designed to cure in the first place.
Whether legal or illegal, it’s clear that drugs and their collateral damage is a difficult problem to deal with. The best we can do is continue our scientific inquiries into the problem, keep educating the public about the subtleties of the issues, and look forward to a moment in the future when clarity doesn’t seem quite so far off.