The White House announced a new Heroin Response Strategy today. This new initiative will roll up initiatives already underway in five separate hot spots, including Maryland’s beloved Baltimore. Our elected officials were quick to trumpet this new program, which isn’t surprising considering how badly handled the war on drugs in this country has been in general – and let’s be perfectly realistic here for a minute – how shockingly incompetent it’s been at crushing the heroin trade in particular.
I’ve always been of the school of thought that says the moment you ban something, you make it more attractive to a certain subset of the population. You also make the banned substance more expensive. Criminal enterprises spring up to fill the newly created market niche… and then federal and state money pours into fix a problem that they created in the first place. Still, the nature and efficacy of prohibition isn’t really the point here.
My point is it’s damned near impossible to legislate yourself out of moral or medical “problems.” The 18th Amendment raised up men like Al Capone and Machine Gun Kelly. I’m not sure why we thought alcohol was a special case. The war on drugs features a different substance, but the same approach, and has garnered much the same result. I would never dare march under the banner of outright legalization of any and all comers, but expecting the new Heroin Response Strategy to do any better than the “more of the same” that has come before it is futile at best.
Perhaps it’s time to focus on the criminal acts rather than the substances themselves. Does society care if you get high as a kite and drop dead in your bathroom with a needle in your arm? Maybe a little, but not enough to do much about it. Now if you get high and then proceed to rape, rob, or steal, well then society has a problem. We can’t have the addicts running around bothering the mostly nice, mostly law-abiding civilians. If we can’t manage to address the root cause of addiction, perhaps we can at least mitigate the symptoms society has determined are most unpleasant… because if I’m bluntly honest, I don’t much care if Jane Junky ruins her life right up to the point where my television, a laptop, and the window she broke to get in the house become collateral damage to her addiction.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. There’s no law banning heart disease (although there are some laws encouraging more healthful behaviors). If beating a heart attack were as simple as passing a law criminalizing it, well Congress would be full of heroes – and prisons would be full of middle age men who had one too many cheeseburgers. Instead of criminalizing heart attacks, we’ve build an entire medical establishment around saving people from the consequence of a high fat, high cholesterol diet.
Surely our friend Big Pharma would love to find itself with another readymade customer base. It would be good for the taxpayer, good for shareholders, and dare I say it, good to Jane Junky too. Even if that’s not true on all counts, it could hardly be worse than what we’ve been trying for the last fifty years.