February 3, 2014
Street heroin is devastating America today. The heroin overdose death of creative genius Philip Seymour Hoffman — found dead today with a needle in his arm and “Ace of Spaces” heroin in his hotel room — underscores the urgent need for radical reforms that would decriminalize, regulate and assert strict quality control requirements over recreational street drugs.
It wasn’t the heroin itself that killed Philip Seymour Hoffman, you see: it was the unpredictability of the potency of heroin that’s manufactured, distributed and retailed in an unregulated underground economy which has no quality standards and no accountability to its customers and users.
The War on Drugs is an absolute failure
At first glance to the simple minded, the heroin-induced death of a beloved actor might seem justification for an urgent call to escalate the War on Drugs with an even greater degree of police intervention, state surveillance and expansion of the world’s largest prison system. Yet such decades-long efforts did nothing to prevent to death of Hoffman, and in many ways they undoubtedly contributed to it. When an in-demand chemical product cannot be legally regulated, controlled and distributed alongside medical treatment protocols for addiction, it inevitably falls into the hands of underground operators who, almost by definition, exhibit zero quality control standards and are steeped in a culture of violence and criminality.
And that means the heroin which people like Hoffman are able to acquire is unpredictable: it may be contaminated with toxic substances, combined with physiological multipliers that enhance toxicity, cut with deadly fillers, or dosed with dangerously wide variability to the point where users have no idea how much of the drug they’re really getting with each injection. Every dose is a roll of the dice, and far too frequently that gamble ends in tragedy.
How the war on drugs makes drugs even more deadly
The drug war has failed to keep recreational drugs out of the hands of substance abusers all across America, and in its failure it has vastly increased the toxicity of those drugs to the point where the drugs are increasingly deadly. Remember: Hoffman’s overdose was not a suicide. This was an addict who believed he was simply getting another day’s fix. He had no intention of killing himself.
If street drugs like heroin could be decriminalized, regulated, controlled and distributed in a medical context along with serious addiction treatment protocols, those who choose to abuse the drug would, at the very least, be able to count on consistent dosing and drug composition. Shifting the massive demand for recreational drugs out of the hands of shady criminal operations and into the hands of pharmacies, clinics and addiction treatment centers is not only medically justified but morally and ethically demanded. It also has the revolutionary side effect of causing the economic collapse of drug gangs (and all their violence).
Substance addiction is not a criminal mindset; it is a medical addiction. But by forcing substance addicts to deal with the criminal underground, we condemn them to precisely the kind of toxicity and unpredictability that killed Hoffman.
Hoffman’s death is an urgent call for a sane drug policy in America
Hoffman’s untimely and tragic death is yet another urgent reminder that our current drug policies in America — all based on an utterly failed, cruel and outmoded paradigm of criminality — must urgently change.
Nobody wishes to see anyone use heroin, meth, crank or other “hard” street drugs, yet people are going to use them one way or another regardless of what the rest of us wish. If we hope to see fewer of these people die from drug poisoning and overdose, we must find a way to heavily regulate, control and prescribe these synthetic molecules to addicts in conjunction with compassionate addiction treatment programs that treat these addicts as human beings who need help rather than felony criminals who need prison time.
Let Hoffman’s death serve to remind us all, yet again, that federal drug policy in the USA can never work as it is currently configured. Drug addiction is a medical issue, not a criminal issue, and until it is treated as such, the War on Drugs will continue to waste billions of dollars while unnecessarily destroying millions of lives.