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.
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.