So what if Jeff Sessions doesn’t realize Reefer Madness wasn’t a documentary, but a propaganda film, best watched high to achieve maximum enjoyment. The opposing viewpoints, far from the quiet of Main Justice, are locking arms behind him. If they have their way, Sessions may end up a hero, prescient in reviving “just say no” as the cell door slams.
It’s the opioid epidemic. Not problem, but epidemic. The thing about using words like epidemic is that they scare people. They make people leap to the conclusion that this problem is so extreme that it must be fixed. Immediately. By any means possible. And this is the word of choice on the left and the right. When consensus appears, hold on to your hats.
German Lopez at Vox says it completely changed his view of legalization of drugs. Apparently, this 2012 graduate of the University of Cincinnati* knows a lot of addicts.
By the time I began as a drug policy reporter in 2010, I was all in on legalizing every drug, from marijuana to heroin and cocaine.
It all seemed so obvious to me. Prohibition had failed. Over the past decade, millions of Americans had been arrested and, in many of these cases, locked up for drugs. The government spent tens of billions of dollars a year on anti-drug policies — not just on policing and arresting people and potentially ruining their lives, but also on foreign operations in which armed forces raided and destroyed people’s farms, ruining their livings. Over four decades, the price tag for waging the drug war added up to more than $1 trillion.
Oscar Wilde called a cynic someone who knew the price of everything and the value of nothing. Like most kids, German could quote statistics, and thought that was good enough to understand the world. He learned otherwise.
Yet for all the effort and cost, the war on drugs had little to show: Drug use had actually trended up over the past several years, and America was in the middle of the deadliest drug crisis ever in the opioid epidemic.
And then he fell prey to the stories of pain.
I saw friends of family members die to drug overdoses. I spoke to drug users who couldn’t shake off years of addiction, which often began with legal prescription medications. I talked to doctors, prosecutors, and experts about how the crisis really began when big pharmaceutical companies pushed for doctors and the government to embrace their drugs.
And so ends Lopez’s not entirely naive support for legalization. It’s not that he’s against reform (though he never mentions decriminalization), but arrives at the conclusion based on his life experiences that the opioid crisis must be stopped.
At National Review, David French links approvingly to Lopez.
As German Lopez lays out in a thoughtful extended piece at Vox, opioid prescriptions increased as the federal government pushed the “pain as the fifth vital sign” campaign and as pharmaceutical companies aggressively marketed opioids like OxyContin. Opioid prescriptions skyrocketed and addiction rates increased, and as addiction increased, so did overdoses. To be clear: Not all these new addicts were the actual patients. Simply put, families and communities were suddenly awash in narcotics, with extraordinarily potent drugs filling medicine cabinets from coast to coast.
Notably, this suggests a problem with big pharma pushing Oxy with a government assist, a very different problem than junkies and crack whores. But the connection is made clear as the dots of pharma opioids created addicts, who then took to the streets. And ultimately died.
And now, as virtually every American knows, we face a national crisis. In 2016 drug-overdose deaths increased 11 percent over 2015’s already-high number. A stunning 52,404 Americans lost their lives. To compare, that’s almost 15,000 more than died in car crashes and roughly 16,000 more than died to guns, including homicides and suicides.
The numbers don’t quite jibe with the chart, as terms get conflated a bit, but they’re still serious numbers.
This isn’t the first time we’ve had an opioid epidemic, though it was called heroin the last time around. The difference is heroin is what poor people shoot, while opioids are the pills handed out by docs to people with health insurance who live in houses with picket fences. There is a parallel of sorts, as crack was vilified by myth while coke was what cool people snorted in the bathrooms at Studio 54.
French, like Lopez, goes to the visceral description of the problem, the sort that tugs at heart strings and leave the mind behind.
In other words, opioids are monstrous inventions that overpower the human will on a mass scale. There are no “rational actors” among addicts, and the substances are extraordinarily addictive. Do you know an opioid addict? Then you’ve seen them slide slowly away from reality.
This is how the War on Drugs started in the first place, the sad tales of uncontrolled death and destruction, long on emotion and devoid of thought. And with the Gertrude caveat, the call to action is made:
That’s not to say that fighting the war on drugs means winning the war on drugs. It may mean that we do nothing more than contain the problem, preventing it from spiraling out of control even further. And, as Lopez notes in Vox, arguing against legalization isn’t the same thing as arguing against reform, including reforming the way in which the criminal-justice system deals with drug offenders. There is much room for creativity and thoughtfulness in dealing with the crisis. I see no room for broader availability and greater ease of access.
No one who has any substantive knowledge about what heroin did to people would suggest that it should be legalized. There has never been such a thing as a social heroin user. Both Lopez and French employ the tools of hysteria, the language of crises and epidemics, to argue against legalization. Who argued for legalization of heroin? Who would be that ignorant?
But their Gertruding aside, the reaction to these cries in the opioid wilderness will be met by guys like Sessions, and maybe you, to leap to the most simplistic response, and that will be the good ol’ War on Drugs. No one could be so naive (sorry, German) as to believe that screams about an epidemic will be met with the cautious response of decriminalization and reform, the reduction in current ineffective yet draconian policies like mandatory minimums and zero tolerance.
No one who has a clue about drugs ever argued for the legalization of heroin. Yet, we have consensus that the solution no one sought can’t be allowed because of an epidemic. Now that both sides agree, the toilet will get flushed again with bipartisan support, and the tepid reminder that the most obvious answer failed will go swirling down the bowl.
*This is something worth re-emphasizing: most of the “crime and law” writers at online media outlets are young, have no legal education and have no experience in the system. This is akin to your nephew, Skippy, who majored in journalism and minored in gender and sexual perversion studies, getting a writing job that paid so little that no one with an expectation of eating in the future would take it, and becoming your criminal law guru. There’s a reason their bios tell you next to nothing about them. There is next to nothing to tell.