D. Dowd Muska


Heroin Replaces Pills, and the ‘War’ Goes On

June 05, 2014

They were ferociously disciplined, in mind and body. But they couldn’t conquer heroin.

Jeffrey Reynolds and Mark Kennedy, former Navy SEALs, provided security for the Maersk Alabama. In February, in Seychelles, both died from lethal cocktails of heroin and alcohol.

In their home country, smack is enjoying an unnerving revival. Two weeks before Reynolds and Kennedy died, acclaimed character actor Philip Seymour Hoffman fatally overdosed on a combination of narcotics that included heroin. Since then:

The New York Times reported that the “amount of heroin seized by the Police Department on Staten Island has jumped more than 300 percent from 2011 to 2013, and this year shows no sign of abating.” (In its coverage of Hoffman’s death, the Times wrote that Gotham was “awash in cheap heroin.”)

• A strategy developed by the police department in Taunton, Massachusetts revealed that the city was “on track to have more heroin overdoses in the first three months of the year than we had in the entire year of 2013.”

• Noting that many Old Dominion municipalities could “see double the number of heroin overdose deaths over last year,” 12 Virginia fedpols asked the state’s governor to establish a task force.

Law-enforcement officers in the Pittsburgh region arrested dozens of heroin dealers who had “brazenly conducted most of their drug trafficking in the Monroeville business district.”

• Commenting on his state’s heroin crisis, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said, “We’ve never seen anything like it. It’s unprecedented. We’ve never had as lethal a drug as available, and as cheap.”

East Baton Rouge Parish’s coroner told KNOE 8 News that so far, 2014’s deaths from heroin are double what they were on the same date in 2013.

• A lengthy examination by The Courier-Journal reported that in 2011, “just one person was booked on heroin trafficking charges in Louisville … . By the next year, the number was 53, and by 2013 it was 71. … Through the first week of May, 100 people had already been booked on charges of heroin trafficking this year.”

• An Associated Press investigation found that heroin has spread to “postcard villages in Vermont, middle-class enclaves outside Chicago, the sleek urban core of Portland, Ore., and places in between and beyond.”

As odd as it sounds, the heroin epidemic gripping much of the nation is largely the result of a  “success.” According to Caleb Banta-Green, author of a 2013 analysis for the University of Washington’s Alcohol & Drug Abuse Institute, “when we reined in opiate prescribing, it dried up the market for diverted prescription pharmaceuticals, and the people who were abusing prescription pharmaceuticals switched over to heroin.”

Recent years have seen doctors, prompted by addicts and government restrictions, cut back on painkillers. And in April 2013, the FDA decreed that the original formula for OxyContin be “withdrawn from sale,” and that only a reengineered version, “more difficult to crush, break, or dissolve,” was legal. Some junkies turned to other pills, such as Opana. Many found something cheaper -- and far more dangerous.

“Win” a battle in the “War on Drugs,” and a new front pops up. That’s always been the case, because, as a sitcom character trenchantly observed, “Dude, drugs don’t need pushing. They push themselves. People love drugs.”

But with the exception of marijuana, where sane reforms are proliferating at the state level, get-tough nonsense dominates. What the Cato Institute’s Tim Lynch wrote in 2001 is true in 2014: “America’s drug policies are never seriously debated in Washington. Year after year, our elected representatives focus on two questions: How much more money should we spend on the drug war? and, How should it be spent? In the months preceding elections, politicians typically try to pin blame for the drug problem on one another. After the election, the cycle begins anew.”

Last month, the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control held a hearing on heroin and prescription-drug addiction. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) pledged to “maintain the current law enforcement tools to go after those who are trafficking heroin into our nation and our communities.” Witnesses were the usual drug-war drones, including officials from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Drug Enforcement Administration, Office of National Drug Control Policy, and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. New, bold, promising ideas for combating the scourge of heroin? The federal government’s not interested.

Meanwhile, the bodies pile up, cartels’ and dealers’ turf wars rage, police and prosecutors continue to get paychecks, and America maintains a prohibition that cannot succeed.

D. Dowd Muska (www.dowdmuska.com) writes about government, economics, and technology. Follow him on Twitter @dowdmuska.

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