A friend and former student of mine, a police officer on Long Island, tells me:
"Right now heroin is cheaper then crack and cocaine. So it has become the drug of choice. From Jan 07 to Aug 07 there was 42 heroin overdose just in two precinct in Nassau county."
There are eight precincts in Nassau County and a total population of 1.3 million. Let's assume, because I don't know better, that the 2 precincts represent 1/4 of the population. That's an annual heroin overdose death rate of 22 per 100,000 people, about twice the national average.
If we really cared about saving lives, we could save these lives. But we clearly don't care because we persist in policies that cause deaths. If saving lives were our priority, we could follow the policies of countries with much lower overdose death rates.
First of all, education. We treat all illegal drugs as equally bad. Zero Tolerance. But all drugs aren't equally bad. Heroin is a horrible drug. Maybe the worst. Marijuana isn't really bad at all. Cocaine is somewhere in between. This is important. I would love to give teenagers weed if only they wouldn't try heroin. At least tell them the truth about weed so they'll believe it when you tell them to fear heroin.
Take the Netherlands. Yes, the Netherlands. The country that drug warriors love to laugh at and dismiss because they don't want to fight our war on drugs. In Amsterdam, you can walk into a tax-paying store and legally buy weed, hash, even magic mushrooms. The government gives out heroin to addicts (not most addicts, however). Prohibitionists say that "sends the wrong message."
Here's the message: in the Netherlands, drug usage rates and overdose rates are much lower than in the U.S. (and so is their incarceration rate, while we're at it).
Fewer people take drugs because they don't play the prohibitionist's drug game. Those that do take drugs don't die. The overdose rate in the Netherlands is 0.75 per 100,000.
Get this: in their entire country of over 16 million, there were 122 overdose deaths in a year. That's fewer than Baltimore City alone. Probably fewer than Nassau County, too.
We could save lives--tens of thousands of lives each year--if we really cared about saving lives. But we don't. We see overdoses as unfortunate. Hell, maybe not even that. Overdose deaths "send a good message," I've heard.
The war on drugs isn't about saving lives. It's about maintaining prohibition. Too bad prohibition kills.