The drug war is in the media a lot due to the miraculous amount of violence perpetrated against ordinary citizens by both the military, government, and drug cartels. Heroin has been in the news because of the number of overdoses. Marijuana has been in the news for the amount of money it is generating legally in Colorado. Drugs are everywhere in our cities, in our homes, and in our conversations. They’re on our minds, prescription or legal. Mind altering substances have been around since the dawn of man, since man knew consciousness. How societies and cultures deal with this human phenomenon has varied with time, but in our age there is a complete ban on all mind-altering substances as determined by the United States of America acting as a policing agent for the world regarding narcotics. While the United States allows recreational substances such as alcohol and tobacco to be used, it has determined a schedule for which outlawed drugs are classified according to potential medicinal use. As marijuana is a schedule one substance as is heroin, it seems to be an arbitrary drug classification system. Schedule one drugs are drugs which have no legitimate medicinal use. It can be argued that both heroin and marijuana can be used medicinally.
Tracy Helton, one of the subject’s of HBO’s Black Tar Heroin, agreed to answer some questions about heroin and the drug war for me. This was our correspondence:
What do you see as the biggest obstacle for wider naxolene distribution in the US?
The biggest issue for naloxone at the moment is that the movement to get it in the hand of users is parceled up among the states. The easiest solution to the problem would be for the FDA to switch the status of the drug from prescription to over counter. The process of creating new laws to get naloxone out where it is needed is a long one. Even in state’s where naloxone is available by law, there may be no place within a four hour drive where you can find it. Changing the status of the drug would make it easy to purchase on the internet, in brick and mortar stores, or through you medical insurance carrier. Naloxone isn’t just for heroin users. Anyone who uses opioids can be at risk of an overdose. Naloxone should be in every first aid kit.
Do you believe narcotic drugs should continue to be illegal or do you think lifting prohibition would be a better policy? If lifting prohibition would be better, what system should be adopted as a policy (ex. making drug users register and carry cards or having established red light districts)?
I don’t really have a position on the legalization of drugs. I believe we need to dismantle the Drug War to focus on treatment over incarceration. There are so few places where drugs have been decriminalized as test cases, I don’t have enough evidence to form an educated opinion. I believe Marijuana should be made legal. That as far as I can go.
In your opinion, has the United States’ effort to criminalize addiction and make drugs globally illegal made the drug world safer or more dangerous? Why?
The War on Drugs has certainly made the world a more dangerous place. The impact it has had in Mexico is a perfect example of that. Drugs have been used and abused by humans for thousands of years. They are not going away. We need to acknowledge this and formulate ways to make the experience safer for those that chose to indulge. In addition, we need to create common sense health and criminal justice policies that treat the use and misuse of drugs as a health issue, not a moral failing.
Tracy survived the hell of heroin addiction to come to the other side of not only her own recovery but the recovery of others as well. Many say that there are certain things that one cannot know the truth of in full without having experienced it. Most people can watch a movie and use their imagination to guess what the life of a heroin addict would be like. But the detailed day-to-day motions of it are often missed in the inexperienced imagination. Public policy is a little like this. A bunch of people sit in a room and attempt to essentially solve a problem, sometimes a problem that everyone acknowledges has no permanent end like drug prohibition. They imagine, they use evidence, guesswork, and time to evaluate the nuances of the problem. But at the end of the day, most of the people who institute public policy do not live the full consequences of it.
Drug policy is an extremely complicated issue because it is both a health and public safety issue. It is a health issue because addiction is a mental illness, and because there is risk of overdose when consuming a drug. This then brings the public safety issue to rise, which is that since the drugs in this country are illegal, they are unregulated. Consumers cannot be guaranteed that the product they intend to buy is actually the product itself, or that it has not been tampered with in a harmful manner. In fact, with some drugs such as heroin which is commonly cut with something consumers expect their substance to have been tampered with in unknown amounts. It is also a public safety issue because drugs should not be able to be obtained by minors, and because people can be unpredictable under the influence of certain drugs. There are a lot of important factors to consider when weighing the implications of use of drugs by a citizenry.
Heroin policy is absolutely behind the times. Naxolene should be widely available to users. Marijuana policy is absolutely behind the times. People should not go to prison or jail for the sale or use of marijuana. The public policy regarding drugs is an outdated and dangerous system of prohibition stances that do not take into consideration realistic models of human behavior.