Doing The Same Thing And Getting Nowhere

thomas vance Published:

A couple of weeks ago There was an article in the Kentucky Enquirer about the increase in heroin overdoses and deaths in the region, particularly in Northern Kentucky’s Campbell County. There was a response printed in the Community Press’s Campbell County edition and in it State Senator Katie Stine called for more money for law enforcement and for us to do all the things we are already doing with no success when it comes to drugs. I sent a letter to both papers and to Senator Stine and have received no response.

While I think Senator Stine is a capable legislator, our legislators are also supposed to be leaders and as such should lead the charge to eliminate programs that are either counterproductive or wasteful, or just do not work. Our policy on of Prohibition is just such a program and it should be called out! I would encourage my fellow voters to only elect legislators who are willing to face facts and have the courage to speak out and suggest solutions to our problems that are based in reality and science and not continue these failed policies just because it’s what we have always done.

The letter follows.

Madam,

While I applaud your efforts and the efforts of those wishing to get control of our heroin problem, no program will be effective until we change the basic policy on drug abuse that underlies our actions. Prohibition as policy has been our guide for over 100 years and in that time we have had not one year which could be called a success. The percentage of the population addicted to drugs stands at 1.3%, exactly the same as it was in 1914, when the Harrison act went into effect, exactly as it was in 1937 when the Marijuana Tax Stamp Act was passed, exactly the same as it was when the 1970 Controlled Substances Act went into effect and President Nixon declared the War On Drugs.

There is another way.

The country of Portugal had all the same problems with drugs and addiction as any other modern country. At a time when Portugal was being squeezed by the economy and was experiencing increasing HIV/AIDS cases they decided to abandon the old arrest and imprisonment policy and go a different direction. Portugal in 2001 ended the crime of possession and embarked on a new policy. Possessing and using small amounts of drugs is no longer a crime. Persons caught with small amounts of drugs, instead of having their drugs confiscated, are given a citation and required to appear before a panel made up of a psychologist, social worker and a legal advisor to assess treatment options. Treatment can be refused without criminal sanction.

July first was the 11th anniversary of that huge change in policy. The results of Portugal’s experiment are in and the policy is considered a resounding success. Rates of lifetime use of any illegal drug among seventh to ninth graders fell from 14.1% to10.6%. Lifetime heroin use fell from 2.5% to 1.8%. New HIV infections in drug users fell by 17% and deaths related to heroin and other drugs were cut by more than half. The number of people in treatment for drug abuse doubled and money saved on law enforcement was put back into rehab making rehab more available to more citizens.

I hope that our leaders can come up with a successful way to handle this problem but no policy will be successful if it’s based on the old policy of prohibition. We are just squeezing the sausage and addicts will just move to another drug and show up somewhere else. The crackdown on the prescription drug abuse sausage probably caused the swelling of the other end of the sausage into heroin abuse.

I don’t know if Portugal’s policy is right for America, but it is a resounding success and proves that there is an alternative to arrest and imprisonment. Treating addiction not as a crime but as the health problem it really is.

You could really do the country a service, instead of having us continue the same failed policy, propose a policy that has worked and has a track record of success. Otherwise we are just wasting more money doing things we already know don't work. 51 billion dollars a year and nothing to show for it! It should be an outrage.

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  • There is a small increase, but it is minimal. Fortunately, the stigma helps keep it that way. Although, minimal is still an increase. To that, all I can say is 'I TOLD YOU SO'. If you look back at my comments on the bust stories, I predicted this would happen. Pills are made at licensed facilities, shipped to licensed dispensaries, given to people by licensed doctors, etc. There is control all the way. You can monitor the supply and demand. You cannot do that with an illicit drug that comes from the ground....As for the "drug war", Einstein defined insanity as Doing The Same Thing Again and Again and Expecting a Different Outcome.

  • Really, heroin use/addiction is a non-issue. There is almost no one dying from heroin, relatively speaking. There is almost nobody even using heroin in the US...a country of 314 MILLION people. "According to the 2008 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the number of current (past-month) heroin users aged 12 or older in the United States increased from 153,000 in 2007 to 213,000 in 2008. ................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................In contrast, according to the CDC, an estimated 45.3 MILLION people, or 19.3% of all adults (aged 18 years or older), in the United States smoke cigarettes. Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, accounting for approximately 443,000 deaths, or 1 of every 5 deaths, in the United States each year. ................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................ Fifty percent of the adults in America are current regular drinkers, 39% of the kids ages 12-17 have had at least one drink in their lifetimes and 63% of full time college students reportedly used alcohol in the past month. According to the CDC, there are approximately 79,000 deaths attributable to excessive alcohol use each year in the United States. This makes excessive alcohol use the 3rd leading lifestyle-related cause of death for the nation. In the single year 2005, there were more than 1.6 million hospitalizations and more than 4 million emergency room visits for alcohol-related conditions. As can be seen, the carnage of these two drugs is astounding, but what would making them illegal do? First of all, as much as the private prison industrial complex would love it, we could not build enough prisons to hold all of the violators. It would literally choke our legal system to the point of non-functioning. You just can't put everybody in jail for doing things that may or may not be good for them. Nor should you even try. ................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................ Then there would be a violent black market organized crime syndicate develop to fill the void in the supply that would make anything in Mexico or Columbia look tame. The biggest problems that we have with the current prohibition of some drugs in this country stem from them being illegal, not from health impacts. The cure is worse than the disease. Adding tobacco and alcohol to this prohibition would be futile and add to the insanity of the current Drug War.

  • Agree. Imprisonment 'cures' nothing.

  • Good article. Until we stop penalizing addicts & instead treat the real problem, then all we are doing is wasting even more money. The money to treat would come from the incarceration costs & will be much cheaper to treat then to incarcerate. A lot of overdoses are caused by an addict spending time in jail & when they get out & use again, their body cannot handle the doses that they were used to taking. They're other causes but this is one of the big reasons. Everybody has differing opinions but one thing that I think we all can agree on & that is what we are doing now is simply not working & getting even more costlier to fight.