Letter to the Editor: War on drugs aims but misses target

Because heroin is sold via an unregulated black market, its quality and purity fluctuate tremendously. A user accustomed to low-quality heroin who unknowingly uses pure heroin will likely overdose. The inevitable tough-on-drugs response to overdose deaths is part of the problem. Attempts to limit the supply of illegal drugs while demand remains constant only increases the profitability of drug trafficking. For addictive drugs like heroin, a spike in street prices leads desperate addicts to increase criminal activity to feed desperate habits. The drug war doesn’t fight crime; it fuels crime.

While the U.S. remains committed to moralistic drug policies modeled after alcohol prohibition, Europe has largely abandoned the drug war in favor of public health alternatives. Switzerland’s heroin maintenance program has been shown to reduce drug-related disease, death and crime among chronic users. Providing chronic addicts with standardized doses in a clinical setting eliminates many of the problems associated with illicit heroin use.

Heroin maintenance pilot projects are underway in Canada, Germany, Spain and the Netherlands. If expanded, prescription heroin maintenance would deprive organized crime of a core client base. This would render illegal heroin trafficking unprofitable and spare future generations from addiction. Putting public health before politics may send the wrong message to children, but I like to think that the children are more important than the message. Students who want to help reform harmful prohibition laws should contact Students for Sensible Drug Policy at www.SchoolsNotPrisons.com.

For information on the efficacy of heroin maintenance, please read the following British Medical Journal report: http://bmj.bmjjournals.com/cgi/content/full/327/7410/310.

To learn more about heroin maintenance research in Canada, please visit: http://www.naomistudy.ca/.

— Robert Sharpe, MPA
Policy Analyst
Common Sense for Drug Policy

Common Sense for Drug Policy is a nonprofit organization “dedicated to reforming drug policy and expanding harm reduction,” according to its Web site.

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