3 Ways Bill O'Reilly's Drug War Rhetoric Is All Wrong

In a recent post to his syndicatd column, conservative pundit Bill O’Reilly asks the U.S. to please stop sending the wrong message about drug use. O’Reilly reminisces about the days of Just Say No and then goes off on a rant about the failures of other countries to stop drug use. Talk about people in glass houses! For many American children, drug use actually starts long before that first sip of beer, and the rates of youth drug use in the U.S. surpass use in most other industrialized nations. Given that, one has to wonder if O’Reilly himself is on drugs.

Here are the top three reasons why O’Reilly’s piece reads more like satire than social commentary.

1. The fallacy of a drug-free America. In his article, O’Reilly questions why we as Americans do not support a “Just Say No," drug-free America mentality. Maybe it’s because human beings are wired to say "yes” occasionally. Famous sociologist Howard Becker wrote in The Outsiders that it is human nature to desire a change in perception. Young children spin in circles until they get dizzy, then they fall down in laughter, then they do it again. They are experiencing a change in perception, and it is something they enjoy and seek out. And let’s not forget that, for most people, their first psychedelic experience is in the chair at the dentist office. Mine was. I was 10 and it was amazing. The idea of a society completely devoid of a desire to alter consciousness goes against human nature as much as asking for a “sex-free America.”

And what about this drug-free America that O’Reilly supports? Does he mean an America free from only illicit drugs? The rates of overdose on prescription medications have tripled since 1990. O’Reilly suggests that youth are not exposed to drugs until they fall into the hands of the evil weed peddler, but how many of these kids spent their elementary and junior high school years being fed a steady supply of Ritalin? It is estimated that 2.5% of school-age children are being medicated for ADHD.

2. Amsterdam: Saturated with stoners? In his letter, O’Reilly slams the Netherlands, and in particular, Amsterdam, for its permissive marijuana policies that are sending the wrong message about drug use. Claims of the streets being “saturated with stoners” and “little urchins getting stoned between classes” (because that never happens in the U.S.!) paint Amsterdam as a drug-ridden den of iniquity.

But let’s take a look at the facts. The rate of marijuana use among those 12 and over in the Netherlands is lower than in the U.S. by quite a bit (22.6% vs. 40.6% lifetime use).The Netherlands also enjoys lower rates of harder drug use and this is all while locking up  fewer people for drug use than we do in the U.S. A recent study from Purdue University found that decriminalizing possession of drugs in the European Union was not associated with an increase in use among young people. These findings have been supported in the U.S. where youth marijuana use has been shown to decline after states pass medical marijuana laws

3. The image of drug-crazed Portugal. After taking the Netherlands to task for its permissive marijuana policies (which have actually been successful in reducing youth use), O’Reilly goes after Portugal, which, over 10 years ago, decriminalized the possession of all drugs in favor of a public health-centered approach rather than one based on criminal sanctions. O’Reilly points to this policy shift as a failure, claiming, “Drug-related homicides have increased by 40 percent. Drug overdoses are up by 30 percent."

However, a report by the Open Society Foundation contained interviews with numerous top officials in Portugal involved with studying the policy shift, including the director of the Institute for Drugs and Drug Addiction, Joao Goulao. Goulao believes those figures are the result of data collection methodology which considers the presence of a drug in a death report as a “drug-related death” even if the drug use did not contribute to the person’s demise. The report also states that, since the policy change, criminal activity associated with obtaining drugs has decreased; the visibility of drug use in urban areas has also decreased, as has the number of drug users infected with HIV. An additional report by the Cato Institute states that the policy shift in Portugal has resulted in the rates of addiction being cut in half. Overall, the policy shift is viewed as a success both in Portugal and around the world.

When taking countries to task for the implementation of forward thinking, evidence-supported policies, while holding up a drug-free America as some sort of Holy Grail, O’Reilly begins to sound like your crazy old uncle. You cringe when you hear him use antiquated language and disproven arguments against progressive ideas, but roll your eyes and chuckle because you know it is past the point for him to change his whole life paradigm, which was a result of a different time and a different way of seeing things. I am sure there were pundits arguing against the end of slavery, integration in schools, and interracial marriage. Just as there are those who claim marriage between two people of the same gender is a sign of the apocalypse, Bill O’Reilly proves once again which camp he belongs in with his outdated drug war rhetoric. Good for a laugh, and nothing more.


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