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Why We Can't Legalize Our Drug Problem Away


In many US states, more people die from prescription drug overdoses than from car crashes. That’s the finding of a new report on the explosive growth in prescription drug abuse. Kaiser Health News:

Researchers at the Trust for America’s Health found that rates of overdose and addiction doubled since 1999 in most states. In West Virginia—the state with the highest number of drug overdose deaths—the rate was six times higher than fourteen years ago.

Prescription drugs, of course, are legal, but that hasn’t stopped massive abuses and tragic deaths. There’s a kind of anti-drug war rhetoric that suggests that all our drug problems will go away, or at least be significantly reduced, if drugs were made legal and were regulated by local governments. But legalized cocaine or legalized heroin are just as likely to be abused as legalized prescription drugs. Judging by this report, that potential for abuse is quite high.

[Image of pills courtesy of Shutterstock]

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  • f1b0nacc1

    Proponents of legalization (and I reluctantly include myself in that group) don’t pretend that the problem will go away. What we do say is that:
    1) We will get the government out of making decisions as to what free citizens can decide to put in their own bodies
    2) We can stop corrupting law enforcement while militarizing it in an unwinnable and dangerous drug war
    3) We can stop filling our jails with non-violent offenders, with the attendent social woes that brings
    4) We can stop pretending that by making something illegal we can ignore the causes of the problem in the first place.
    None of this is cost-free, and there will be unpleasant consequences no matter what policies are followed. To pretend otherwise is silly.

    • Andrew Allison

      And we can stop feeding the criminal organizations which supply them. The US learned absolutely nothing from Prohibition.

      • JohnOfEnfield

        Precisely. The corruption & criminalisation of our peoples caused by prohibition is a terrifying blot on our societies. Teaching people how not to abuse their bodies & minds by misuse of drugs is a challenge with & without prohibition. Without prohibition we can at least have a sensible discussion.

    • rheddles

      And maybe we can get rid of the asset forfeiture laws that are paying for the militarization of our police.

  • AD_Rtr_OS

    And yet the Left spends inordinate amount of time and money trying to deal with “gun-violence”, whose numbers pale in comparison.
    Is the term “Get a Life” relevant here?

  • cubanbob

    Legalizing drugs is a slogan. I would like to see proposals on just how to do it. Is the FDA going to inspect for purity? And just where would one buy legal crack, heroin of crystal meth? Walgreens? CVS? By prescription? Over the counter? Will those hooked on them be able to qualify for SSI disability when their to addled to work? Will ObamaCare cover them?

    • Fat_Man

      “Is the FDA going to inspect for purity?”


      “And just where would one buy … Walgreens? CVS? By prescription?”


      “Will those hooked on them be able to qualify for SSI disability”

      I don’t know, but we should follow the same policy we follow with alcoholics.

      “Will ObamaCare cover them?”

      Trick question. Obamacare will cover no one.

      • cubanbob

        Marvelous. Expanded SSI and ADA rights. And under ObamaCare those who wish to indulge legally in the use of heroin and meth among others for the first time are going to go to their GP to get a prescription. Marvelous. And of course with O Care all they will pay is their co-pay and they will be USP pure. Simply marvelous.

  • Thom Burnett

    WRM is fighting the straw man. No legalization advocate says that all the problems go away. We say that the problems are different and overall smaller. Some problems get significantly reduced – like bloody drug turf wars. I would expect more use and therefore more direct health problems but much less of the enforcement problems – less powerful organized crime, fewer people in jails, safer products on the street, etc. Overall a net gain for the people of the USA.

  • Fat_Man

    What we have here is the catastrophic failure of a policy — i.e. treating drug abuse as a legal issue that can be solved by legal prohibitions and punishments.

    Failure of this magnitude should not be remidied by continuing the policy, nor by doubling down.

    The alternative should be to treat drug abuse as a medical problem that should be managed by social and medical interventions, such as mental health outreach, faith based initiatives, AA, rehabilitation clinics, und so weiter.

    But, even a more complete legalization would be better than the current catastrophic failure.

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