To Defeat Heroin We Need to (NOT) Stay the Course
By Mike Uth
To combat abuse of heroin and prescription opiate pain killers there are several principles we need to keep in mind and actions we need to take.
We must shut down all the pill mill pain clinics, imprison the doctors who run them, and make every other doctor too scared to prescribe opiate pain killers at all. We can’t worry about what happens to all those pain patients who suddenly find themselves without a doctor.
Yes, they’ll be forced to go through withdrawal when their prescriptions run out, and, yes, many, in desperation, will turn to illegal drug dealers. But we have to remember that a few of these patients might actually be drug-seeking junkies and that’s who we need to focus on.
We must not allow the federal government to fund needle exchange programs.
Yes, this means that the United States will continue to have the highest HIV infection rate in the developed world and will cause thousands of preventable deaths every year, but otherwise, we would just be sending the wrong message about drug use.
We need to increase funding for the federal Drug Enforcement Administration. We should be proud that, unlike so many other countries, America has not fallen into the trap of allowing drug policy to be controlled by health care professionals. We’ve learned that law enforcement agents who are unencumbered by medical expertise, like our DEA, know best when it comes to drugs.
We must remember that abstinence is the only acceptable alternative to drug abuse. Many European countries have found that providing maintenance doses of prescription heroin to the most troubled users has allowed those users to get healthy, hold jobs, rejoin their families, and lead productive lives, but who cares?
These people are still using drugs! Those Europeans are so morally bankrupt they even let their doctors prescribe heroin to relieve the pain of terminal cancer! Thankfully, these things can’t happen in America and we need to keep it that way.
We must continue to make drug offenders ineligible for student loans, public housing, and other forms of public assistance, take away custody of their children and make it impossible for them to find a job. In this way, their ruined lives can serve as useful deterrents to potential drug users.
We must urge people to turn in their unused pain drugs to collection centers designated by local authorities. This will help us strangle the illegal drug market in much the same way that collecting household scrap metal helped us defeat Hitler.
We must understand that it’s all about the drugs.
So what if many drug users are trying to self-medicate anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses? So what if nearly all of the most troubled long-term heroin users were traumatized by childhood abuse? So what if many users are poor, jobless, isolated, and lacking in family and community support?
We don’t need to make things complicated. These people should just say no to drugs or go to jail.
We must never even think about decriminalizing drug use and possession. Portugal did this 12 years ago for all drugs—even heroin— and used the money they saved on drug law enforcement to fund expanded treatment programs. They like to brag about how this approach reduced crime, overdose deaths, and HIV infection rates dramatically without increasing drug use.
Well, that might be acceptable in Portugal, but we’re Americans. We’re not going to let the temptation of merely reducing the harms caused by drug abuse distract us from the goal of creating a drug-free America.
Most importantly, we need to stay the course we set with the Harrison Narcotics Act of 1914. For a whole century we have sustained the courage to fight the war on drugs with a series of increasingly tough drug laws. We can now take credit for imprisoning more drug offenders than any other country. We alone have taken on the burden of housing 25 percent of the world’s prison population.
Just imagine what things would be like if we hadn’t shouldered this burden. Why should we stop now, when, surely, if we just keep doing what we have done so well for so long, victory soon will be ours?
Stay strong America and stay the course!
Mike Uth is a member of the Board of Directors of the ACLU of Ohio.