There are plenty of spots in my city where a user can go to get their fix. This particular user, I never met her nor do I know her name, died on a handicapped ramp in practically anonymous manner. How do I know this? The story of this anonymous death was relayed to me by a good friend of mine about two months ago. My friend lives in an apartment complex. The woman, who was homeless, was awake and nodding off as my friend went to the bank. He returned and about three hours later he went to get some food and as he walked by this woman again she was dead, overdosed on heroin.
Overdoses are common place in my city, at least five a day with twelve deaths last month. The police carry narcan, an anti-opiate administered to people who have overdosed to counteract the effects of the drug. As I learned the police do not arrest the people they save for anything. This falls under the good Samaritan law. Heroin has this city on lock down. There are users everywhere. How did this come about?
I put the blame squarely on the totally ineffective Drug War. The real cost of the Drug War in America is staggering. We have tens of thousands dead citizens and police. We have punishment not treatment. There are thousands of people in jail for simply possessing a drug. These are the prisoners of the Drug War. There harsh mandatory minimums that are meted out cost taxpayers billions. It costs anywhere from 20 to 30 thousand dollars a year to incarcerate one person for one year. I do not believe the measure of the efficacy of the Drug War can be measured by the number of prisoners. Instead of curtailing drug use in America we have seen a spike in truly harmful drugs like Meth and Heroin.
Yet, policy makers refuse to see the failure. They are blind to the realities that Drug War has brought about. In stead of thoughtfully looking at what is really happening they seem happy to look at what is trying to be accomplished with the blunt tool of draconian jail terms and the belief that society can simply outlaw drugs and drugs will go away. Well with a couple of decades of fighting the Drug War we have more drugs on the street than ever. One of the most insidious of the new drugs is a true gateway drug, Oxycontin. Oxycontin, if you do not know, is a synthetic opioid designed for people in truly horrendous pain from a variety of diseases. Many people abuse this pharmaceutical product. The cost for this drug on the street is high and becomes an unsustainable habit for those hooked. Make no mistake they are hooked. Oxycontin is physically addictive and requires more and more to feel the same effect. I know this because I have personally watched two people ruin there lives with this drug.
When the user runs out of money to feed this habit there are two choice: rehab or heroin. You see heroin fulfills the physical need for an opioid at dirt cheap prices, usually ten dollars a bag. However, the cycle begins again. Ten dollars a day quickly rises because of the bodies tolerance for this drug. As this path is followed users become more and more driven making money to feed the habit.
Current policy would incarcerate these users. We need to change that policy and help addicts reclaim their life. But there is no money in that. The growth of private prisons is a lens into what the criminal justice system is all bout. It is about incarceration for money not helping people reclaim their lives. Only one Presidential candidate has addressed this problem and that is Bernie Sanders. Senator Sanders has called for the removal of marijuana from the Schedule 1 list of drugs. Then he wants to allow states to make their own policies regarding marijuana. By removing marijuana from the schedule 1 list the United States would see four distinct benefits:
1. Less arrests for marijuana would help clear up the court system
2. Fewer incarcerations for simple possession freeing up $25,000 per year per inmate
3. Tax revenue would be generated for states
4. Legalization would remove money from the cartels forcing them to depend on hard drugs that have a much more limited market than marijuana.
Policymakers in Washington need to look at the real cost of the drug war and the effect it has had on our nation. Policy needs to reflect people not statistics.
This brings me back to the woman who died anonymously on a handicapped ramp in a an apartment complex. Her death is a direct result of the failed Drug War. If we had a humane policy of helping addicts recover their lives instead of punishing them for their addiction perhaps we would see fewer overdoses and fewer prisoners. It is time to reform our nation’s drug policy.
This article was written by Daniel Mahan, a writer for dusk magazine.