My wife and I recently attended two community forums organized by a woman concerned over the calamity in our city wrought by heroin and other drugs.
We were shocked to learn that heroin overdose deaths in 2015 in our city are projected to be six times the national average.
Nor does it matter where you live, since communities from coast to coast battle the same crisis. It has taken on a personally-relevant tinge for us, with two shooting deaths in recent weeks in nearby neighborhoods. One was clearly linked to drug use and the other rumored to have a connection.
What is the answer? It’s safe to say that many of us feel overwhelmed by the staggering nature of the problem.
One answer is to legalize drugs. When I recently lamented the rolling train of marijuana legalization, a friend told me he would have agreed—until he read about a pair of books that argue the case for legalization of drugs. Such a move often leads to reduced crime and usage, my friend said.
Nor is legalization a new argument. Even conservative commentator Pat Robertson advocated for the legalization of marijuana more than three years ago.
“I really believe we should treat marijuana the way we treat beverage alcohol,” Robertson told the New York Times. “I’ve never used marijuana and I don’t intend to, but it’s just one of those things that I think: this war on drugs just hasn’t succeeded.”
If there’s one encouraging point that has emerged from the current crisis, it’s the recognition that we can’t arrest enough dealers to stem the tide. Unless we reduce the appetite for drugs, they will keep flowing. Treatment needs to replace the “lock ‘em up and throw away the key” approach.
Yet, even if were we to call off the admittedly-ineffective war on drugs, I’m not confident that it would resolve all our difficulties stemming from their abuse.
As exhibit A, I recall the story about the campground store at Mammoth Cave National Park in southwestern Kentucky canceling alcohol sales in 2013—just one year after they started.
The reason: the year prior, when people had to bring their own bottle if they wanted a drink, there were 12 alcohol-related incidents in the park. After people could purchase it there, such incidents more than tripled.
Chief Park Ranger Brad McDougal told an NPR station that the result DUIs, public intoxication, and other violations created too much of an increased workload for personnel.
“Before we began selling wine and beer in the camp store it was 35 to 40 miles to nearby Warren County to buy package liquor,” McDougal said. “I knew [an increase in incidents] was going to be a probability. I didn’t know it was going to be this kind of a jump.”
So if people can’t handle the ready availability of beer and wine, what will they do when instead of relaxing with a drink, they indulge in a drug whose sole purpose is to get high?
Again, I have a personal connection to the legalized marijuana issue. Someone close to me lives in Colorado and attends Narcotics Anonymous meetings.
He says legalization has created enormous problems for people attending NA meetings. Some rationalize if it’s legal, then it must be OK. No wonder he frowns on it.
If it weren’t bad enough that it’s legal, recently Time magazine published a story titled, “Dope Dreams.” It described entrepreneurs seeking to cash in on the growing marijuana legalization movement to create national pot brands.
I think of this as one of many unintended consequences that will create a long-lasting morass for society. Indeed, many states will rue the day they opened the door to this “innocuous” substance.