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March 10, 2014

Should the feds reallocate all drug war resources away from marijuana to heroin now?

The question in the title of this post was my first thought in reaction to this notable news release from the US Department of Justice headlined "Attorney General Holder, Calling Rise in Heroin Overdoses ‘Urgent Public Health Crisis,’ Vows Mix of Enforcement, Treatment. Here are excerpts from the press release:

Calling the rise in overdose deaths from heroin and other prescription pain-killers an “urgent public health crisis,” Attorney General Eric Holder vowed Monday that the Justice Department would combat the epidemic through a mix of enforcement and treatment efforts. As an added step, the Attorney General is also encouraging law enforcement agencies to train and equip their personnel with the life-saving, overdose-reversal drug known as naloxone.

Speaking in a video message posted on the Justice Department’s website, Holder noted that between 2006 and 2010, heroin overdose deaths increased by 45 percent. “When confronting the problem of substance abuse, it makes sense to focus attention on the most dangerous types of drugs. And right now, few substances are more lethal than prescription opiates and heroin,” Holder said....

The complete text of the Attorney General’s video message [includes these passages]:

“When confronting the problem of substance abuse, it makes sense to focus attention on the most dangerous types of drugs. And right now, few substances are more lethal than prescription opiates and heroin.

“Addiction to heroin and other opiates – including certain prescription pain-killers – is impacting the lives of Americans in every state, in every region, and from every background and walk of life – and all too often, with deadly results. Between 2006 and 2010, heroin overdose deaths increased by 45 percent. Scientific studies, federal, state and local investigations, addiction treatment providers, and victims reveal that the cycle of heroin abuse commonly begins with prescription opiate abuse. The transition to — and increase in — heroin abuse is a sad but not unpredictable symptom of the significant increase in prescription drug abuse we’ve seen over the past decade....

“Confronting this crisis will require a combination of enforcement and treatment. The Justice Department is committed to both.

“On the enforcement side, we’re doing more than ever to keep illicit drugs off the streets – and to bring violent traffickers to justice. With DEA as our lead agency, we have adopted a strategy to attack all levels of the supply chain to prevent pharmaceutical controlled substances from getting into the hands of non-medical users. DEA proactively investigates the diversion of controlled substances at all levels of the supply chain. This includes practitioners that illegally dispense prescriptions, pharmacists that fill those prescriptions, and distributors that send controlled substances downstream without due diligence efforts. DEA also uses its regulatory authority to review and investigate new pharmacy applications in targeted areas to identify and prevent storefront drug traffickers from obtaining DEA registrations. And they’re also going after “pill mills.”...

“Of course, enforcement alone won’t solve the problem. That’s why we are enlisting a variety of partners – including doctors, educators, community leaders, and police officials – to increase our support for education, prevention, and treatment. DEA engages in widespread education of pharmacists, doctors, and other health practitioners in the identification and prevention of controlled substance diversion during the healthcare delivery process. In the Northern District of Ohio, for example, the U.S. Attorney convened a summit at the Cleveland Clinic, bringing together health and law enforcement professionals to address that area’s 400-percent rise in heroin-related deaths. And nationwide, the Justice Department is supporting more than 2,600 specialty courts that connect over 120,000 people convicted of drug-related offenses with the services they need to avoid future drug use and rejoin their communities.

March 10, 2014 at 05:53 PM | Permalink

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Comments

I am a drug policy commentator from UK with over 40 years experience of studying drug markets domestically & internationally.

I think it would be very unwise to do what you suggest, drug use, legal or illegal, is a cultural problem with an evident relationship between the use of one toxic substance and another.

Do what you suggest, effectively normalize cannabis use and there will be long term consequences in the use of other drugs, with unavoidable increases in personal and social harm.

Posted by: David Raynes | Mar 11, 2014 9:14:00 AM

Part of the problem is that the government's cries of wolf over marijuana--over the last 40 years--have entirely undermined its warnings about heroin, meth, cocaine, etc. Imagine if marijuana had been legal all these years. See Time Magazine's latest article: ""The state of Colorado's collected $2 million in taxes on the approximately $14 million in recreational marijuana sales since the drug was legalized and regulated. Officials will use the windfall to build new schools and possibly for advertisements against driving while high."

Posted by: Mary | Mar 11, 2014 10:24:27 AM

Mary --

"Part of the problem is that the government's cries of wolf over marijuana--over the last 40 years--have entirely undermined its warnings about heroin, meth, cocaine, etc."

First, it isn't crying wolf, as David Raynes points out, and second, while there is no shortage of stupidity out there, no one is stupid enough to think that heroin, meth and cocaine aren't dangerous.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Mar 11, 2014 11:52:38 AM

It makes sense to use limited funds sensibly.

The discussion goes beyond "heroin" to things like "opiates." We can add meth and the like. It won't be "all" resources -- I take there will be some effort, e.g., to stop the importation of large amounts of cannabis from Mexico or provide them to minors.

As to the first comment, how about alcohol use? It is "normalized" in this country, I assume, though there is opposition to misuse and it has various dangers that go far beyond what marijuana has at this moment. This was true as well when marijuana was not illegal under state or federal laws.

Posted by: Joe | Mar 11, 2014 1:13:27 PM

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