By Dale R. Kerns Jr.
A few weeks ago, you addressed the opioid epidemic, which has gripped the country in recent years. In officially declaring the opioid crisis a national public health emergency, you took the important first step toward fixing this problem.
However, even more important is how we move forward in operating in the midst of this emergency. We have already tried treating the issue as a criminal one. Over the last 40 years, our nation has spent well over $1 trillion in taxpayer dollars on the War on Drugs as our federal prison population has increased by nearly 800 percent.
If one wishes to know the effectiveness of these policies, they need only learn that in spite of these strong steps, the United States remains the number 1 country in the world in illegal drug use.
With this “tough on crime” approach clearly failing, an alternative has emerged to treat drug users not as criminals, but rather as human beings. In Portugal they decided to take this path less traveled in 2001. Once ravaged by chaos and disarray due to the drug trade, the country’s incidences of use and addiction has plummeted. Overdose deaths of adults are now the second lowest in the entire European Union, with 3 annually for every 1 million citizens.
Switzerland has embraced medical treatment for heroin addicts. The Swiss have experienced incredible results with their heroin-assisted treatment program, which began in 1994. The Swiss treat roughly 1,300 addicts with maintenance doses of heroin via more than 20 clinics. Perhaps the most incredible statistic, since the program’s inception there has not been a single occurrence of overdose in any of the clinics.
My own family has had a brush with the real-world ramifications of the failures of the current War on Drugs. Two years ago, we lost my cousin Dan. He had been a drug user, and when he needed help the most, the government extended not a helping hand, but an iron fist. Thrown in jail, he never got the necessary treatment to help him kick his addiction.
Addiction is not a crime, and it shouldn’t be treated like one. If my family had been given the opportunity to help Dan, things could have turned out differently. It may be too late for him, but it is not too late to help the millions like him who suffer every day from the current Drug War.
In 1990, one leading business voice eloquently explained a path to winning the War on Drugs. He asserted, “You have to take the profit away from these drug czars.” That same business leader stated that by taking the drug trade out of the shadows, profits could then be used to educate the public about the “dangers of drugs,” rather than wasting that money on incarceration.
Mr. President, do you remember speaking these words? Your words could not have been more right then, and now you have the opportunity to prove yourself correct and enact this policy 27 years later. By taking the steps I’ve outlined in my “Addiction is Not a Crime” bill, I’m confident that we can work together to bring an end to the scourges that are drug addiction and the War on Drugs.
Dale R. Kerns Jr. is the head of Delaware County’s Libertarian Party and a Libertarian candidate for U.S. Senate