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
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.