U.S. Government Guilty of Creating Heroin Addicts
By Wendy McElroy - October 16, 2014

[Note: this article proceeds from two assumptions. First, drugs can be abused but the abuse could not possibly be more destructive than the War on Drugs has been. Second, drug use is in no way the same as drug addiction.]

"The American narcotics problem is an artificial tragedy with real victims."

– Dr. Marie Nyswander, New Yorker, June 26, 1965

America has a drug problem. It is reflected in local newspapers such as the Herald Times Reporter (Oct. 9) that stated, "In just two years the number of heroin deaths has increased 50 percent in Wisconsin." It is reflected nationwide; Slate (Oct. 3) stated, "Deaths from heroin overdoses have accelerated, doubling in just two years, according to … the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention."

An under-discussed aspect is the pivotal role government has played in creating a drug problem, especially through war and returning soldiers.

The American Government Creates Drug Addicts

The first American war in which drug addiction was documented, both during and afterward, is probably the Civil War (1861-1865). The drug was opium, especially in the form of morphine. Touted as a wonder drug, morphine was often administered through the then-recently developed hypodermic syringe. Both sides used it as an anesthetic in field hospitals, a general painkiller and a 'cure' for diarrhea. One Union officer reportedly made all under his command drink opium daily as a preventative for dysentery. As many as 400,000 soldiers are said to have returned home with an addiction. Many continued to use morphine thereafter to dull the agony of war wounds, both physical and psychological. The addiction was called the "Soldier's disease."

World War I (1914-1918, U.S. 1917-1918) has been called the "Tobacco War." By then, opiates were controlled but the government wanted something for soldiers to ease the periods of long boredom and calm stress. The solution: cigarettes. According to the Tobacco Outlook Report put out by the USDA, at the turn of the 20th century, the per capita consumption of cigarettes was 54 a year with less than .5 percent of people consuming 100 a year. And, then, cigarettes were distributed to millions of American soldiers as part of their military rations. By the end of the war, an estimated 14 million cigarettes were being distributed on a daily basis. In a 1918 cable from France to Washington, D.C., General John J. Pershing wrote: "Tobacco is as indispensable as the daily ration. We must have tons of it without delay. It is essential for the defense of democracy." Tobacco use soared after 1918.

In World War II (1939-1945, U.S. 1941-1945), nations on both sides gave its military men liberal amounts of amphetamine, a drug recently synthesized for pharmaceutical use. For example, in the 1930s, Smith, Kline & French (now GlaxoSmithKline) sold it as Benzedrine. A powerful central nervous system stimulant, amphetamines were called "pep pills" and boosted both stamina and morale. A now-elderly relative of mine was involved in General George Patton's march toward Berlin; he described staying awake and walking for days because of the 'go pills.' The U.S. Air Force was particularly notorious for 'drugging' pilots to keep them alert on long-haul missions. America continued to hand out amphetamines up to the invasion of Iraq in 1991.

Information on drug use during the Korean War (1950-1953) is thinner, perhaps because the government became less transparent and actively denied accounts of 'illegal' drug use. The government did continue to distribute amphetamines, however. And a factor that would characterize wars thereafter rose to prominence. The arena of conflict and areas adjacent to it were sources of plentiful, cheap drugs. The use of local product was often officially discouraged but this does not mitigate the responsibility of authorities for depositing young men in high stress arenas where addictive drugs flowed. In his book The Korean War, Paul M. Edwards stated: "The Department of Defense reported that in the Far East Command, the number of men arrested for narcotics abuse tripled since 1949. … The amount of heroin seized was about three times the amount. In some cases, usually around the port cities, it was not unheard of that 50 percent of their men were involved in drugs. …"

The Vietnam Game Changer

The Vietnam War (major U.S. involvement 1965-1975) became the first in which soldiers' drug use received mass media attention. Marijuana and heroin were readily and cheaply available on the Indochina market, with amphetamines still being officially supplied. By 1969, the military was reportedly arresting more than a thousand soldiers a week for possessing marijuana. Some accounts blame the pot crackdown for driving soldiers to heroin. A 1969 investigation by Congress found that 15-20 percent of soldiers in Vietnam used heroin regularly. This prompted Rep. Robert Steele, head of the investigation, to claim that a "soldier going to Vietnam runs a far greater risk of becoming a heroin addict than a combat casualty." It was a risk that hyperbolic politicians were willing to inflict on young American males. It is estimated that at least 40,000 veterans came home as heroin addicts.

Vietnam may have pioneered another means by which government and war promote domestic drug use. Frank Lucas was a black heroin dealer in Harlem who cut out the middleman by using contacts in the Golden Triangle to establish a direct relationship with a heroin source. Then he built "an army inside the Army" that facilitated an international drug network in exchange for bribes or other rewards. Heroin was shipped home in the false bottoms of military coffins. In short, Vietnam provided Lucas with the contacts, the personnel and the method of shipment he needed to create an incredibly successful drug empire.

The War in Afghanistan (2001-present) and surrounding wars are conducted in an area that is the world's leading producer of opium. According to official and tightly-controlled military sources, drug use among American soldiers is minimal. (Drug use among allies, such as the Iraqis, is widely acknowledged to be rampant.)

At least three factors call the official line into question. First, in July 2013, the National Institute of Health published a study entitled, "Introduction to the Special Issue: Drugs, Wars, Military Personnel, and Veterans." It stated: "Recent research suggests that the use and misuse of alcohol and prescription opioids (or POs such as OxyContin, Vicodin, and Percocet) are the signature substances associated with OEF/OIF/OND military personnel and veterans; for many, the consumption of these substances is causing additional challenges both for military personnel and veteran populations." (OEF/OIF/OND = Operation Enduring Freedom, Afghanistan/Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation New Dawn, Iraq) It would be amazing if prescription drug abuse was prevalent while far more easily and anonymously obtained drugs were eschewed.

Second, in the earlier stages of the 13-year war, rampant drug use was acknowledged. A 2007 Salon article was entitled, "Afghanistan. It's easy for soldiers to score heroin in Afghanistan. Simultaneously stressed and bored, U.S. soldiers are turning to the widely available drug for a quick escape."

Third, newspapers have recently exploded with stories of an epidemic rise in America's heroin addicts. On March 21, a BBC News headline trumpeted, "The horrific toll of America's heroin 'epidemic'." In April, NBC News ran a 17-part series on the epidemic. The Washington Post (May 16) ran an article entitled "When heroin use hit the suburbs, everything changed"; which focused on heroin addiction becoming a white phenomenon. None of the stories mentioned the impact of war or that most soldiers coming home are white. Instead, like the ABC News coverage (July 31), they dwelt on the "doubling" of addicts as though it had no discernible cause.


What is the truth of it? Sometimes intentionally and sometimes not, often directly and often through circumstance, the American government is the greatest cause of drug addiction at home. And war is its conduit.

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  • There’s also the fact that by criminalizing the production, sale, and use of substances on Schedule I of the Controlled and Dangerous Substances Act (21 CFR 1308.11), the federal, state, and local governments have increased the profit margin for those vendors daring enough to defy or corrupt law enforcement officers.

    For all intents and purposes, the “War on (Some) Drugs” is a government price support program for drug dealers.

    • Libertatis

      You’re assuming the government would altruistically create these price supports…Why wouldn’t it just cut out the middle man, and import the drugs directly itself?

      And, in fact, we find that’s exactly what it does. It knows its weakness is bureaucracy, so it farms out the actual work to closely-controlled cartels like Sinaloa; but occasionally it needs the funds more immediately and directly, so the CIA brings in a few planeloads–as it did during the Iran-Contra affair.

      Research Mena, Arkansas, “Freeway” Rickie Ross, and the conveniently suicided journalist Gary Webb, a man who shot himself twice in the head.

      • Fritz Knese

        You just have to admire the dedication of someone who shoots themselves in the head twice!

        • Libertatis

          LOL that’s sheer determination and grit!

          Speaking of Mena, Arkansas–the Clinton Crime Family and colleagues killed so many potential witnesses to their cocaine smuggling through that small airport that the term “Arkancide” was coined to describe the incredibly creative modes of suicide there.

          • Fritz Knese

            I have a friend that tells of a couple of teens who were in the wrong place at the wrong time and were killed during Clinton’s and Bush’s meeting about CIA drug running. Just goes to show how the bib boys cooperate on the “important” things despite party affiliation! He also told of a time when a plane was forced to land in Miami and was found to be loaded with cocaine from Columbia. They offloaded the plane in a warehouse. The pilot was given a phone call. Soon the CIA showed up and made them reload the plane and allow the pilot to go on his way.

          • Libertatis

            Government and its owning oligarchy really are a sick joke behind the scenes, aren’t they?
            If only more people could see them for the craven, criminal cowards they actually are.

          • Fritz Knese

            Actually most people in government are pretty “normal”. Most folks will abuse power. The answer is to create systems of living which do not give power to abuse. That is why I promote anarchism, not necessarily as an attainable goal but as a direction to aim towards. If you aim low you will obtain even lower results.

          • mulen

            Addiction has been around since the beginning of time the government suffers from it to.The Kennedy family has a great track record and that is just the most glaring case.

          • Fritz Knese

            I agree that drug addiction has been around a long time. It will likely remain with us despite being so irrational. But from a social standpoint addiction is not the problem. The problem is the illegal nature of drugs creating artificially high prices. If legal most drugs would cost pocket change thus not requiring the theft, prostitution, and killing that goes on in our present day drug culture. Government keeps drugs illegal to promote its power and line the pockets of various officials. The CIA running drugs is just the tip of the iceberg.

          • Libertatis

            Anarchy is the goal, agreed. Humanity will eventually overcome the illusion of authority.
            Agreed also–the Stanford Prison experiment showed clearly that normal people become abusive quite easily. Milgram’s study demonstrated it as well.

          • Fritz Knese

            My hope is that humanity will survive to spread throughout the galaxy as freedom loving individuals. But if I had to wager my bet would be that humankind will either destroy itself or be destroyed by some natural catastrophy (asteroid strike?) before we attain widespread space colonies. There was a book a number of years ago detailing methods to colonize the galaxy in “9 easy steps”. It started with “growing” islands using “sea concrete” (Minerals accreted from sea water by running a small current through wire frames. Mother Earth News showed how to make boat shells this way.) You drop piping deep enough to use the temperature differential to create electricity to pump up nutrient rich water from the depths. The electricity can be used to power big lasers to boost rockets into space by hitting them from behind and superheating water to create thrust. The rocket is boosted up by using electromagnetic sleds. The islands become self sufficient raising lots of protein and selling energy. They also could become freedom enclaves of scientists, engineers, fish farmers, etc. With plentiful energy we could boost lots of water into orbit which can be used for protection from radiation. (16 ft. of water is about equivalent to earth’s atmosphere for radiation protection. Once we can create relatively inexpensive space stations using shells of water, the next step of exploring the solar system can begin in earnest. Unfortunately such a dream is unlikely to become reality. Not because it is technically infeasible, but because it would be a threat to governments and their ruling elites.

          • Libertatis

            I’m very confident we will see just such a vision come to fruition.

          • Fritz Knese

            I wish I had your confidence. The older I get the more cynical I become.

          • Libertatis

            I’ll freely admit the timing’s a bit iffy. This too shall pass.

            To bolster your faith, keep in mind the basic psychology of the psychopaths in charge; they ALWAYS overreach. It’s in their nature; they can’t help themselves. Criminology shows this–serial killers, for example, start slowly and cautiously but invariably escalate their behavior until they’re openly taunting police and victims.

            Much like the psychopaths in government, their criminality is becoming more and more open and bold.

            They’re losing the discipline and focus of the old guard–the Kissingers, Brzezinskis, older Rockefellers. The young guard are brash and dissipated. The infighting has begun already, the miss-steps, the accidental revelations. Their plays are increasingly transparent; from 9/11 to Sandy Hoax to Boston, each more apparent.

          • Fritz Knese

            I probably agree about how psychopaths act, but two things are also relevant here. 1: They control the mass media and much of the internet. 2: Most government types are not truly psychotic but pretty normal folks finding themselves in positions of power. Like most humans they tend to abuse the power. Thus the elimination of the “bad apples” is unlikely because most folks are unaware of the problem. And even if you could eliminate them, it does no good without radically changing the system to where the power to abuse is not available. Something approximating anarchism seems the only rational choice, but the vast majority of people have been brainwashed into believing that anarchy equals chaos and is to be avoided at all costs. Thus my cynicism.
            I live in the backwoods off the grid as the closest way I can afford to be relatively free. I am constantly made fun of as being crazy for even such a limited response to our police state. How do you think people will become free mined enough to actually take the huge risk of walking away from our social order?

          • Libertatis

            Fair enough, that most people in government are minions, useful idiots, and not genuinely sociopaths.
            However if you’ve read Political Ponerology or others, you know about 20% of the populace are highly vulnerable to emulating psychopathic behavior given the right environment.

            Simply continue what you’re doing–which is your way of living apart from the system, undermining it by withdrawing your consent.

            I fight it a bit differently; I’m still immersed in “the system”–relatively high earner, living in the city. But I’m extremely vocal and active, my children shun government school, and I resist in every way I can without jeopardizing my immediate health or freedom. I carry a concealed weapon at all times, and frequently participate in open-carry rallies…as just one form of activism.

            Buy gold, buy silver, buy local farm produce, contract with beef ranchers….all the little things to simply side-step the system.

            The bold secret is, people don’t HAVE to be awoken to withdraw from the system–it will collapse of its own weight leaving them no choice. Our job is to
            a) help ween those willing to separate
            b) rebuild when it does collapse

            And as corollary to (b), it’s incumbent on us to live what we preach–as you’re doing! Self-sufficiency, self-protection, individual freedom AND responsibility.

          • Fritz Knese

            Be very careful about your kids. The state took mine away for the heinous crime of homeschooling. Since you have some money you are a less attractive target for government does fear those who can fight back with a decent lawyer. But make no mistake, if you are enough of an irritant they will eliminate you one way or another.
            I had hoped to create a “freedom oriented community” to promote the concepts involved in individual liberty for when the USA fell of its own top heaviness. But very few folks have the balls to step out of their niche. And to be honest, I no longer see the USA falling within my lifetime or my grandkids’ lifetimes. I think with the psychological control practiced today that the USA could muddle along for thousands of years while most citizens believe they are living in the best possible world. Give most people recreational drugs, a boob tube, and video games and they will fight to the death to keep their slavery. I wish you all the best. Be careful. The state has no compunction about using whatever violence necessary to keep their power and perqs. From the Kennedy brothers to Ruby Ridge, to Waco, TX. Hell, with the Patriot Act they can legally disappear you now!
            Look up the recent book The Man Who Killed Kennedy The Case Against LBJ. No one even cares now.

          • Libertatis

            Indeed–the State’s sole skill is violence. It pretends otherwise as long as possible, but we’re seeing the iron fist revealed now.
            “Wise as serpents, innocent as a dove”–we live dual lives, constantly aware of the undercurrent of vicious, ruthless State violence just under the surface while above the surface we strive to keep the civilization functioning.

            Rather than fearing the State, live and speak out boldly. If we don’t, we will absolutely lose. If we do, and they cage us or kill us, we’ll at least have pushed them back….if only to cost them the money, time, and moral high ground.

            As for the State: ” Don’t believe them, don’t fear them, don’t ask anything of them.”–Alexander Solzhenitsyn

          • Fritz Knese

            I think Solzhenitsyn’s fate would convince most rational folks that standing up to the state was asinine in the extreme. If you are imprisoned or dead you have lost the one life you know you have to live. I prefer being a live coward to a dead hero. So any response one makes to fight government oppression needs to be well considered and defensible. Thus my continued advocation of the 2nd amendment as the most important single law in the land protecting individual liberty.
            In our world it is virtually impossible to survive if one is not showing proper fear and asking for all kinds of things from the state. e.g. How can one get along without driving on state roads, walking on state sidewalks, etc. etc. ad nauseum. Cops are the teeth of government oppression, and I hate them for that. Yet when I am stopped by a cop, I am very polite and submissive. It is a survival mechanism. People who do not practice this are often cuffed, incarcerated, beat up, and even killed (cop choke holds kill a lot like hanging) if you are too much trouble. Since you have some money, you probably have not had the negative experiences with cops that virtually all poor folks get. Hell, I’ve had cops stop me and search my vehicle simply because it was old. They told me that drug dealers use old cars so if they get caught they don’t lose much to RICO. I had cops threaten me with a hand on their gun because I was parked in my old alma mater’s parking lot with a sleeping bag in the back of a station wagon. After holding me about 45 mins they let me go with the explanation “You must admit, this is a suspicious looking vehicle!” It turns out that the cops were hassling anyone who looked non-conformist for Bush and Clinton were in town for a debate.
            Be smart and survive to fight another day. Good luck to you.

        • davidnrobyn

          Reminds me of the guy who held a gun to his head and said to his wife, “Quit laughing–you’re next!”

          • Fritz Knese

            Love it!

    • davidnrobyn

      Yeah, and the gov takes its cut via asset confiscation and the ability to hand out lots of pork jobs related to the prison industry to buy votes.

  • $6618258

    “… the American government is the greatest cause of drug addiction at home.” Yes, but I believe that the US Government is just a puppet used by a corrupt oligarchy that rules from behind the scenes.

    • Fritz Knese

      Exactly! This is one reason why a free society is so unlikely to be created by force of non-violent persuasion. Why would the ruling elite give up the power without a fight?

      • spdlf

        I”m no expert but I believe the State will never be defeated in a fight. The state is force. War is its turf. Though it is a quick and easy sounding fix, conflict does not lead to long-term solutions to complex social and cultural problems. This is why state organized societies and violent revolutions never succeed in the long run, because despite well meaning intentions of patriots, at the end of the day they are just another hammer looking to solve complex social and cultural problems.

        Sure there will be real battles in the struggle of liberty, but the war will never be won by actually fighting City Hall. The most cunning generals win before a battle even has a chance to erupt. We have to know that we can’t win by fighting the state on its home turf.

        The state will wither away only when violence against children ends. This is the primary source of the state. After all, mother and father are the first authority. When children are treated as if they were truly born free they will see the state for the monster it is. They will see that true authority is to be earned through negotiation and reason, not commanded through violence and coercion. Compare the authority of your dentist to the authority of your local bureaucrat. Which one do you truly respect?

        Perhaps a free society without the state is impossible, but in a land that has the utmost respect and lives by non-aggression for its most vulnerable members it very well may become strangled and starved .

        • Fritz Knese

          It would be the easy course to go along with what you write for we all would love to live in a free society with non-aggression as a primary axiom. But reality raises its ugly head. Your assertion that conflict does not lead to long-term solutions is simply wrong. Historically violence is the final arbiter in virtually all human strife. Look at the US or French revolutions for example. Or civil law which rests on the foundation of violent men with guns forcing cooperation.
          I am unsure of what you are talking about with the violence against children. Perhaps the state violence of coerced “education”? I would agree that until kids are mostly raised outside of government institutions like public schools people will not be able to become free for the brainwashing is way too strong. Thus one gets back to the idea of power. Without the power to keep kids away from governmental influences kids will never learn to be free. But the state will send men with guns to enforce their edicts. How do you stop them non-violently? The short answer is that you can’t.
          A free society WITH the state is impossible for the state is by definition the entity with the monopoly on coercion in an area. Coercion is incompatible with freedom, especially on the scale practiced by the state.

  • First begun in 1760, the British smuggling of Opium to China was a “systematic international crime creating the most valuable commodity of the 19th century” per


    There was a tenfold increase in Afghan opium production following the US invasion, and 90% is shipped by CIA transport. The epic book, “Creature from Jekyll Island” by G Edward Griffin covers some of this banking cartel revenue stream.

  • Lyn Morris

    ….as if needed, just another ‘reason’ to hate wars!!!

  • Earl of Isadore

    Thanks Wendy. It is fascinating that people who promote themselves as servants dedicated to protecting ordinary, non-official type people, and of course “the children, don’t forget the children”, always in every age find it necessary to encourage and supply substance use and abuse. There seem to be endless political benefits to the festering social problems and the underground money flows are indespensible for those unsavory projects that nonetheless must be done. See also narco-capitalism, which really should be narco-statism and The Rotten Heart of Europe.

    Another example of our Fire squad composed of arsonists – archy.

  • Fritz Knese

    Wendy, I am told that the CIA is largely funded from Drug profits and that much of the war in Afghanistan was to remove the Taliban which had heavily curtailed farmer’s raising poppies. When Viet-Nam was going on the CIA was making money from poppies in the Golden Triangle. Stephan Segal made an early movie about this which had a lot more truth in it than we would like to admit. The CIA also spent many years giving hippies LSD as reported in Claire Wolfe’s The State vs. the People. Drugs are only profitable because of government intervention. It is no surprise that those with no ethical standards will use drugs to get personally rich. The surprise is that the vast majority still wish to keep most drugs illegal. It is an example of why I tell libertarians that they need to emphasize pragmatic arguments for freedom instead of moralistic ones dependent upon emotions. The people are already brainwashed emotionally. A few are open to rational discourse though.

  • autonomous

    Could it be that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is most likely drug addiction and/or drug withdrawal?

  • davidnrobyn

    Chalk up another dubious distinction for the masters of war. War truly is a racket.

  • Storm

    Racism and power have long motivated the war on drugs. The only easing we are likely to see is through “legalization” and taxation. Essentially bread and circuses to keep the populace more or less contented.