When people say "end the war on drugs" they usually mean "stop putting people in jail for weed," but we should also be talking about making heroin use safer, legal, and more rare, instead of locking up addicts in cages.
Photo via Flickr user Karen Neoh
When people talk about ending the drug war, they usually mean “no one should go to prison for marijuana.” There's no doubt the public has shifted its collective opinion on pot—currently, a majority of Americans believe it should be as legal, regulated, and taxed as tobacco and alcohol—and naturally, politicians are beginning to sense the way the wind is blowing. But elected officials, like people at large, are less gung-ho about legalizing the harder drugs.
First, let's clarify that no one is recommending that we all follow Philip Seymour Hoffman’s example and start shooting up. Heroin is awful. Don't do heroin. It fucks up your life. But as the case of the fentanyl-cut heroin that has killed 22 people in Pittsburgh illustrates, the only thing worse than legal heroin is illegal heroin.
In the aftermath of Hoffman’s death, Jeff Deeney, a former drug addict who now works as a social worker, wrote a piece in the Atlantic that calls for treating heroin like a health issue, not a criminal act. All the nasty effects of this drug—and all the reasons not to do it—are magnified by the threat of prison, the stigma that leads to shame and secrecy, and the increased risk of HIV and infection that comes with sharing needles. According to Deeney, if Hoffman had access to a space where it was legal to shoot heroin and where doctors could supervise users, he might still be alive. Why doesn’t the US have any such sites, though Vancouver, Canada, does? Why the hell isn’t Naloxone, the much-touted miracle drug that stops opioid overdoses, not available over the counter? Why isn’t it passed out in urban health clinics like candy? Out of the 1.5 million people arrested for drug crimes in 2012, 82 percent were for possession, and 16.5 percent of those were for cocaine, heroin, or associated drugs. Did those arrests do anyone any good?
One reason legalizing pot is more popular than legalizing heroin is that far more people smoke than shoot. At least 100 million people in the US have done marijuana, while the number of frequent heroin users has stayed under half a million for decades. But use (which isn’t necessarily addiction) has nearly doubled since 2007—one survey calculated that 669,000 Americans had done heroin in 2012, compared with 373,000 in 2007. (This may be because some former pill addicts move on to heroin, as Hoffman did).
That’s what prohibition (which includes policies that levy draconian punishments for pill possession) does—it causes rippling effects in human behavior. It does not stop drug use, though it may change a user’s drug of choice. Rgardless, it’s time to give up trying to scare addicts into getting healthy and do what Portugal did in 2001 and decriminalize all drugs. Laws can’t stop people from using drugs, they can only make drug use a more harrowing experience for addicts who have to deal with jail time and police harassment and products that, thanks to a lack of oversight, may contain dangerous chemicals.
This country needs to grow up and realize that the legal system is a hammer, and drug users and addicts are not nails. End the drug war. End it all.
On to some bad cops of the week:
-Last week, POLITICO magazine ran a fascinating piece by Jason Edward Harrington, a writer who worked for years as a Transportation Security Agency (TSA) agent at O’Hare Airport in Chicago. Harrington, who blogged anonymously during the last six months of his stint, reveals some nasty details about life in the TSA, including the staggeringly low morale, the fact that the agents themselves think that much of what they do is bunk, and that they also fear radiation from the full-body scanners. He also writes that passengers from certain nations are profiled—you know which ones—and that agents pay special attention to attractive passengers and mock the ugly ones. The whole thing is well worth a read, and quite disturbing.
-On January 13, the city of Deming, New Mexico, settled with David Eckert for $1.3 million over a January 2013 incident during which he was subjected to hours of body cavity searches, enemas, and even a colonoscopy because the cops thought he was carrying drugs after they pulled him over for a traffic violation. (A lawsuit against the hospital and doctors involved is still ongoing.) Another lawsuit, this one filed on January 29 in Albuquerque District Court in Hidalgo County (which includes Deming), suggests that authorities in the area have a serious addiction to reaching inside suspects’ most intimate crevices. The plaintiff, 54-year-old Lori Ford, alleges that she was driving with a friend in March 2012 when Lordsburg police officers pulled her over for speeding. According to the suit, Ford refused to let cops search the vehicle without a warrant so officers brought out drug-sniffing dogs, then seized the car after they acquired a search warrant. When Ford later went to pick up the car, she was arrested, then taken to the Hidalgo County Detention Center. She claims that after she refused to answer questions a female officer made her bend over so that she could visually search Ford’s vagina and anus. Allegedly, marijuana and drug paraphernalia was found in Ford’s vehicle, but the charges were dropped when the evidence vanished. In the lawsuit, Ford asks for unspecified damages.
-A former Mesa, Arizona, cop injured her knee and back 14 years ago, put in for medical retirement in 2008, and is now set to receive workman’s comp for life, even though she has apparently been able to compete in ten triathlons since first being injured. Sergeant Audrey Glemba, 49, applied for medical retirement in 2007 while being investigated by internal affairs over incidents that involved the members of the bicycle squad she supervised taking pictures of themselves with homeless and disabled people and mocking them. Glemba was fired in 2008, reinstated after an appeal, and then soon retired with benefits after approval by a pension board who were well aware of her current athletic abilities. Nice work if you can get it.
-Fears about a terrorist attack of the Super Bowl resulted in millions of dollars in security measures, including a no-fly zone around the stadium, Blackhawk helicopters, snipers’ nests, hundreds of TSA agents, and several checkpoints for fans entering the stadium. Obviously big events bring beefed-up security with them, but the authorities' decision to force fans to take public transportation to the stadium by limiting parking spaces and not allowing anyone to get dropped off created predictable chaos. And it arguably didn’t even make the stadium that much safer, since Matthew Mills, a 9/11 truther, was able to sneak into the stadium and crash a post-game press conference.
-On the cusp of yesterday’s Super Bowl, the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) staged “Operation Team Player,” a months-long sting that lead to 50 arrests and the seizure of $21.6 million worth of counterfeit NFL goods. ICE’s acting director John Sandweg grandly declared that any counterfeit goods “undermine our economy and take jobs away from Americans,” but it seems a little petty to have federal agents spend months building a case against counterfeiters whose crime hurts the NFL more than it does anyone else.
-On Thursday, a Pittsburgh police dog named Rocco died after being stabbed by a violent suspect while protecting a human officer. Naturally, the police department was in mourning—but it seems like it’s a bit much for Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto to release a statement and for flags at city buildings being flown at half mast. Human beings—and dogs—are shot by cops all around the country every day, and those deaths aren’t any less tragic than Rocco’s.
-For our Good Cop of the Week, we have to go with Columbia, Pennsylvania, officer Austin Miller, who was on patrol on Tuesday night when he smelled smoke and heard calls of “fire” from bystanders, and responded by hurriedly escorting two families out of their homes. Not many people can say they’ve saved families from burning buildings, but Miller now can—good job, officer.