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by Peter Moskos

July 12, 2008

Why the War on Drug Fails

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.


Anonymous said...

Sounds like we agree on the drug war. Honest drug education for all, regulating drugs instead of prohibiting them and medical treatment for those with real addictions are much more effective.

It's time to remove all the politicians that promote prohibition. How many more lives have to be needlessly devastated or lost? Prohibited drugs are way easier for kids to get than regulated drugs! Prohibition never works it just causes crime and violence. The year US alcohol prohibition was repealed violent crime fell by 65 percent.

Guns have absolutely nothing to do with using drugs, they have to do with drug prohibition. Al Capone didn’t kill people because he was drunk, he killed people because they got between him and his illegal drug money. The drug gangsters of today do the same!

Even the World Health Organization has documented the Failure of U.S. Drug Policies, read the article here, join the mailing list, watch the videos:
Internet Explorer: http://jsknow.angelfire.com/home
Other Browsers: http://jsknow.angelfire.com/index.html

The USA spends $69 billion a year on the drug war, builds 900 new prison beds and hires 150 more correction officers every two weeks, arrests someone on a drug charge every 17 seconds, jails more people than any nation and has killed over 100,000 citizens in the drug war.

The right; to freedom of religion, free speech, a free press, to keep and bear arms, to be secure in your person, house, papers and effects against unreasonable search and seizure, to life, liberty and property, to be protected from having your property taken by the government without due process of law and without just compensation, to confront the witnesses against you, to be protected from excessive bail, excessive fines, cruel and unusual punishment, to vote and many others have been denied to millions of Americans in the name of the drug war.

I'm glad to see the truth about drugs getting around.

PCM said...

We preach the truth, but we're usually just preaching to the choir.

Hopefully some mainstream politicians (sorry, Libertarians) will take up the issue.

"Al Capone didn't kill people because he was drunk." That's a great line!

MorePheen said...

PCM you are wrong about heroin. Heroin is basically just fast-acting morphine (it is converted to morphine in the body).

The following is from this Guardian article:

Start with the allegation that heroin damages the minds and bodies of those who use it, and consider the biggest study of opiate use ever conducted, on 861 patients at Philadelphia General hospital in the 20s. It concluded that they suffered no physical harm of any kind. Their weight, skin condition and dental health were all unaffected. "There is no evidence of change in the circulatory, hepatic, renal or endocrine functions. When it is considered that some of these subjects had been addicted for at least five years, some of them for as long as 20 years, these negative observations are highly significant."

Check with Martindale, the standard medical reference book, which records that heroin is used for the control of severe pain in children and adults, including the frail, the elderly and women in labour. It is even injected into premature babies who are recovering from operations. Martindale records no sign of these patients being damaged or morally degraded or becoming criminally deviant or simply insane. It records instead that, so far as harm is concerned, there can be problems with nausea and constipation.

Or go back to the history of "therapeutic addicts" who became addicted to morphine after operations and who were given a clean supply for as long as their addiction lasted. Enid Bagnold, for example, who wrote the delightful children's novel, National Velvet, was what our politicians now would call "a junkie", who was prescribed morphine after a hip operation and then spent 12 years injecting up to 350mg a day. Enid never - as far as history records - mugged a single person or lost her "herd instinct", but died quietly in bed at the age of 91. Opiate addiction was once so common among soldiers in Europe and the United States who had undergone battlefield surgery that it was known as "the soldiers' disease". They spent years on a legal supply of the drug - and it did them no damage.

We cannot find any medical research from any source which will support the international governmental contention that heroin harms the body or mind of its users. Nor can we find any trace of our government or the American government or any other ever presenting or referring to any credible version of any such research. On the contrary, all of the available research agrees that, so far as harm is concerned, heroin is likely to cause some nausea and possibly severe constipation and that is all. In the words of a 1965 New York study by Dr Richard Brotman: "Medical knowledge has long since laid to rest the myth that opiates observably harm the body." Peanut butter, cream and sugar, for example, are all far more likely to damage the health of their users.