Friday, September 4, 2009

More Drug War Deaths

Here are two connected stories. These stories illustrate one of the ways in which our national drug policy is literally killing people. The first is from

A medical examiner says a 19-year-old Boulder man died from lethal levels of morphine after drinking "opium tea" brewed with poppy pods.
Boulder County Coroner Tom Faure (fohr) released his findings Monday in the July 21 death of Jeffrey Joseph Bohan. Faure ruled the death accidental.

Witnesses told police that Bohan and an older brother drank the tea early that morning, then fell asleep at about 4 a.m. after playing video games. Police say that when the older brother woke up a few hours later, the younger man wasn't breathing.

It's the second death blamed on poppy pod tea. Police say 20-year-old University of Colorado student Alex McGuiggan was found dead in February after drinking at least two cups.

The second is from an AP story:

Nearly a third of all cocaine seized in the United States is laced with a dangerous veterinary medicine — a livestock de-worming drug that might enhance cocaine's effects but has been blamed in at least three deaths and scores of serious illnesses.
The medication called levamisole has killed at least three people in the U.S. and Canada and sickened more than 100 others. It can be used in humans to treat colorectal cancer, but it severely weakens the body's immune system, leaving patients vulnerable to fatal infections.

Why are people dying from things like this? Because the United States refuses to regulate these drugs and to ensure that they are safe. This is just the tip of the iceberg, by the way. Most overdoses occur not just because the victim uses too much of a particular substance but because they have no way of knowing how strong or pure the substance is. That's because our government, instead of trying to make these drugs more safe, has decided to criminalize them and then pretend that people won't use them. So know, instead of a reputable pharmaceutical company (please don't laugh) producing cocaine,for example, and then having the FDA test it and ensure its purity is standardized, you have a criminal making it, and cutting corners by cutting it with veterinary medicine.

You could say those people should just obey the law and not do drugs. But we've tried this approach for the last 40 years. It doesn't work. People are still using drugs. They want to use drugs. They want to use drugs so badly, they'll break the law to use drugs laced with poison, or brew opium tea from poppy seeds. This is dangerous. This is what you get when you criminalize what should be at most a treatment issue, and often, as is the case with marijuana, no issue at all.

You might also say that if drugs weren't illegal, far more people would use them, and that this added risk would outweigh the problems with black market drugs. But the experiments in Spain, Portugal, Italy and the Netherlands would prove you wrong, as drug use has remained steady or dropped, while overdoses have decreased in those countries.

And of course you have to consider the other costs of criminalization. The War on Drugs costs billions of dollars every year (money that could be spent on treatment or drug education), supports vast criminal networks, has given us the world's highest incarceration rate, has ruined the lives of millions of otherwise good citizens (while at the same time introducing them to the criminal world), has destroyed respect for the law, has discriminated against the minorities and the poor, and in the end, has accomplished absolutely nothing.

This cannot continue. Momentum for sane drug policy is growing, and I predict that it will reach a critical mass in the next few years, if not before. Do not think that you are the only one who agrees with me, and don't be afraid to talk to your friends and neighbors about this issue.

This is not some trivial issue about letting hippies get high. Our drug policy is highly destructive, and fixing that policy would make this country a much, much better place. This issue affects you whether you like drugs or not. And now is the time to speak up. Be on the right side of history.

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