Why Does Heroin Make People Stupider?

Heroin is a bad drug, a terrible drug. Highly addictive and highly susceptible to overdose, it is not a drug to try for kicks, as it never ends well.  But that’s hardly new, as it was the popular drug of choice before crack became the popular drug of choice. The biggest difference at the time was that crack got users wired, whereas heroin put users to sleep. If they were lucky, they woke up when the heroin wore off.

Yet, that’s not the stupid of which I speak.  Rather, it’s the reaction to heroin as reflected in this Newsday editorial from 1979 yesterday.

Lawmakers nationally and locally are swinging into action to face a crisis that’s terrifying constituents: the skyrocketing number of deaths from addictions to heroin and prescription painkillers.

Nationally, 28,647 deaths were linked to opiates in 2014, and that number gave the drugs a grisly honor: opiate overdoses have overtaken car accidents to become the leading cause of accidental death in the United States.

Notably, they immediately conflate two issues, heroin the Schedule I narcotic that we’ve long dreaded, and medicinal opiates, which can sound incredibly scary when related back to the nasty narcotic, or exceptionally useful to people who suffer from chronic pain due to horrible medical conditions. But when we’re in full panic mode, who cares about one pain when there is another that must be fixed!

But what exactly can lawmakers do to combat the problem? A lot. There are no quick or easy fixes to prevent addiction or to guarantee recovery from it, but stronger policies would help. As deadlines for legislative sessions in Washington and Albany approach, pressure for better laws is building.

If there is a problem, there must be a solution to be found in “better laws,” because our laws have all sucked up to now.  And naturally, there is an evil conspiracy to “stymie” those better laws that will make our world fabulous:

And so is pressure to stymie better laws, in some cases. Drug manufacturers don’t want to see pill sales curtailed. Physicians don’t want new education requirements or mandated changes in how they prescribe drugs or talk to patients about them. Insurance companies don’t want to pay more for inpatient addiction treatment or replacement drugs that make it easier for addicts to get clean. And defense attorneys don’t want to see harsher penalties for drug dealers. But these are exactly the things that must happen to get this epidemic under control.

And boom, the solution. Harsher penalties for drug dealers, because the regimen of the War on Drugs of the past 50 years where tiny quantities of drugs resulted in sentences of life plus cancer didn’t do the trick.  Maybe life plus double cancer?

One might hope that the nice folks in Melville, New York, who put their heads together to come up with really cool solutions to vexing societal problems read their own newspaper. Are they unaware of the over-criminalization problem? Have they not heard that penalties for drugs are outrageously harsh already? And if it hasn’t worked up to now, what makes them think repeating the same failed mistakes will work better this time?

Remember those few bright, shining moments when “smart on crime” replaced “tough on crime” as the thoughtful slogan?  Yeah, it’s gone. The reforms announced with great fanfare fade quickly, because there was a new crime, a new hysteria, that had to be fixed. Because there must be a fix, there must be a law. There must be.

But then, they have other bright ideas in conjunction with the cry for more severe penalties.

Among the best proposed measures is one that would make it easier to hold recent overdose victims for treatment against their will. Another big step would be limiting an initial opiate painkiller prescription for acute pain to a five-day supply, keeping a huge volume of unneeded pain medicine out of cabinets and off the streets. More continuing education for doctors and addiction counselors is crucial. Stiffer penalties for serious dealers are a must. And bigger, better anti-heroin education programs in schools have to be mandated, because opiate addiction is so hard to break that preventing it first is the most important step.

Are these cool solutions or what? Except, maybe they don’t bear up well to scrutiny. Where exactly will we put these overdose victims for treatment, the ones that will be held against their will because it’s not like we have a Constitution that sees such things as a problem? Then there’s the “five-day supply” (no doubt an empirically-determined period of time) that creates a massive burden on those in pain, but who cares about the chronically and terminally ill when there is hysteria afoot?

Are teachers in high school elementary school urging students to shoot up, just for fun, because DARE isn’t used in almost every school to no avail whatsoever? But, of course, “stiffer penalties for serious dealers are a must,” because everybody hates serious dealers and the message it will send will change everything, as it has since Nixon started the War on Drugs.

The irony of this mindless hysteria, however, somehow eludes Newsday, when it compares the overdose deaths from drugs to car accidents (which happened in 2009, even though Newsday’s editorial board just learned about it).  Notice how Newsday didn’t call for the end of cars, stiffer penalties for drivers who suck at driving, of which Long Island has far more than its share?

No one who doesn’t profit from drugs wants to see a person become a junkie. And no one wants a junkie to die of an overdose. But the knee-jerk resort to simplistic, failed, ineffective and disastrously harmful ideas, the sort that appeal easiest to the hard-of-thinking, just puts us back on the same merry-go-round of stupidity that we’ve ridden for the last 50 years.

Does heroin make people stupider?  Obviously. So too does the Newsday editorial board. Maybe we need stiffer penalties for them as well.

19 thoughts on “Why Does Heroin Make People Stupider?

  1. Bruce Coulson

    We’ve been fighting the ‘War on Drugs’ for a long time now. (Over a century, by some accounts.) In all that time, despite penalties that started as severe, and became far worse as the war continued… victory was always one more severe law away. The hallucinations caused by some drugs are nothing compared to the delusions they foster in those who would repeat the same policies, ad infinitum.

  2. Jim Tyre

    Heroin is a bad drug, a terrible drug.

    Dang. I always learn new things from you. Thanks!

  3. Robert Davidson

    Reading how shallow newspaper editorial solutions to complex problems sadden deep thinkers doesn’t make me as sad as imprisoning the word “stymie” in scare quotes like “better laws”, “smart on crime” and “tough on crime”. What did stymie ever do to deserve such treatment?

    1. SHG Post author

      You’re not keeping abreast of current trends. “Stymie,” without scare quotes, has the potential to offend at least 3 races, a half dozen religions and 17 of the 31 recognized New York genders.

  4. albeed

    My mother spent the last six years of her life on a fentanyl patch (of slightly increasing doses) until she passed away at 94 years of age from heart failure. The doctor at first was reluctant to prescribe fentanyl until we had tried every other drug under the sun to control her pain from arthritic deterioration of her spine, after it had destroyed most of her other joints. I remember the light in her eyes when she went on fentanyl and became capable of resuming normal everyday activities. Even then, I remember the MD was somewhat fearful of continued use of the patch as it might bring him under government scrutiny.

    I told him that I would shoot any FBI or DEA agent who would just try to take away her life.

    Heroin makes us slightly less stupid than the unlimited “War on Drugs” does.

    1. SHG Post author

      This jihad against prescription pain meds is making a lot of docs very skittish about it. There will be a lot of suffering as a result of these simplistic “solutions.”

  5. Troutwaxer

    My wife has been on opiate pain-killers since 1990, (and does need them desperately) so new laws born from hysteria scare the living crap out of me. I only hope the people who propose these laws, almost certainly without ever consulting a pain patient, should break both their hips in a car accident then get arrested for having “too many pain pills.”

  6. st

    Heroin users weren’t susceptible to overdose when Bayer was selling standardized, pure product in drugstores from 1898 to 1910. Addicting, yes, but overdoses are a direct and predictable consequence of prohibition. Make the pure product illegal and street drugs of highly variable purity will fill the demand. An addict accustomed to highly adulterated product happens to get a batch of purer stuff and you get an “overdose.”

    US prohibitionists have been passing laws against heroin since the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act in 1914. The people today screaming for more and harsher laws are not just stupid; they have 100 years of blood on their hands.

    1. Billy Bob

      One hundred years of blood on their hands, one hundred years of blood. If two of them hands should accidentally wring, 99 years of blood on their hands,…
      The problem with heroin addiction,… oh nevermind. Just lost my train of thought. Honey, would you please pass me a Coca Cola? No, not that one,… the real thing. Is there a doctor in the house?
      As Ronald RayGun would have said: Let them all overdoze. The world would be better off.

  7. bill mcwilliams

    Some years ago, an article in the WSJ stated that if Heroin was legalized, even the most strung-out junkie could purchase all that s/he needed for about twenty five cents per day. The most well-known intelligence service in this country is the largest Heroin cartel in the world, with 50+ years of experience in the business.
    If Congress had the will to put them out of the Smack business, it could do so.

  8. Mike

    It would be a huge mistake for the government idiots to make it harder for people in serious pain to get pain meds. It would be a disservice to our veterans who depend on opiate pain killers to deal with the pain of injuries suffered defending our right to bitch about the stupid people who abuse heroin.

    Personally, having been on the receiving end of opiate pain killers a few times, including morphine, I always wanted to get off them as quickly as possible.

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