The war on drugs is a never-ending game of whack-a-mole. No matter where lawmakers and law enforcement direct their attention, drug users and their suppliers find a way around it.
That has been the story since President Richard Nixon declared war on drugs in June 1971. Ban one substance, and users turn to another. Focus attention on one drug, and users turn to another. Concentrate on domestic manufacturing, and suppliers bring it in across the border. Ramp up border enforcement, and dealers come up with new, simpler manufacturing methods.
If there is enough money involved - and the illicit nature of the drug market ensures there will be - there will always be a powerful incentive to match every new law and every new interdiction measure, tit for tat.
Since 2011, the state of Alabama has restricted the over-the-counter sale of some cold medicines that can be broken down and used to make methamphetamine. At the time, officials praised the results, and former Rep. Frank McDaniel of Albertville, who sponsored the 2010 bill to restrict the sale of cold medications containing ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, predicted the results would only get better.
McDaniel was wrong.
State Sen. Bill Holtzclaw, R-Madison, said this month that the restrictions - along with more drug raids - have been effective in hampering efforts to manufacture meth locally, but they have created other problems.
"With the continued decline in meth lab seizures in our state in 2016 and the subsequent rise in meth from Mexico, it is clear that Alabama is seeing a changing threat with regard to the meth problem," Holtzclaw said. "As Alabama's tough anti-meth laws have made it harder for meth criminals to produce the drug, addicts are turning to dangerous drug cartels to get meth, importing a more addictive and cheaper version than what is produced locally."
This was a predictable outcome for anyone who has looked at the history of either drug or alcohol prohibition. In 1791, a point-of-production tax on whiskey led to an armed revolt and Appalachian moonshine stills that continued production into recent decades. Prohibition in the 1920s led the way for Al Capone and bathtub gin. President Ronald Reagan's renewed war on drugs in the 1980s drove cocaine users to crack. And so on.
It is no coincidence that heroin use has been on the rise following efforts to crack down on the abuse of prescription pain killers, the latter of which appears itself to be an unintended consequence of a program with good intentions: the Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit.
When it comes to illicit drugs, we as a nation drop the hammer one place only for the mole to pop up in another, and we've repeated the exercise for more than 45 years, without even improved arm strength to show for it, just prisons filled beyond capacity - and being made to feel like a criminal whenever one wants to purchase cold medicine.
More and more lawmakers - even in law-and-order states like Alabama - are slowly realizing drug abuse is a medical problem, and treating it as a crime won't solve it. That, and only that, will make the situation really get better.