Tag Archives: drug abuse

Safe injection sites and the ‘War on Drugs’

Embed from Getty Images

 

There has been a great deal of controversy in recent weeks here in my hometown of Philadelphia regarding a proposal by some local politicians to open so-called safe injection sites.

The position of Mayor Jim Kenney and others is that such sites would help combat the exploding opioid crisis.

This would be accomplished by providing a safe place for drug abusers, but also by providing them with counseling.

Kenney was quoted by Aubrey Whelan for Philly.com just last week:

“We don’t want dying on the street and we want to have a place to administer Narcan if necessary. We also want an opportunity to speak to people about their future and getting their lives straight. They can’t do that under a train bridge or on a train track.”

Almost immediately, various members of Philadelphia City Council tried to apply the brakes. Per a piece by Claudia Vargas and Holly Otterbein for Philly.com, those concerns were summed up by Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez: “There’s no plan,” Sánchez said, adding that the city’s official presentation on the proposal looked “like an intern gave it to them.”

I have a number of problems with the idea. Concerns over exactly where any facilities would be located, issues involving liability for the city involving death and injuries at the facilities, and many others.

However, perhaps my biggest problem with the idea is even more basic and controversial. This is especially so coming from me, as I spent most of the last three decades as a Philadelphia Police Officer, Detective, and Sergeant. That included a decade in the Training Bureau teaching officers, supervisors, and commanders.

My biggest problem is that the city would be basically endorsing and supporting folks who are breaking the law. Possession and use of illicit drugs such as heroin is a crime. Addiction is not a valid defense.

Now that statement is factual, so my problem may not seem immediately apparent. Until I reveal why I feel that it is a problem. It’s a problem because the city is supporting an illegal activity. But it is an activity that I do not believe should be illegal in the first place.

That’s right – I do not support laws against the sale, possession, or consumption of narcotics. And if you do, I want to hear the reasons. The real reasons.

Those reasons cannot have to do with health concerns for the individuals involved in that usage, or their families, or for the community. Not unless you also support criminalizing the use of tobacco products and alcohol.

The cost of alcohol addiction to the U.S. economy has been estimated at nearly $250 billion annually. This includes lost productivity, health care expenses, law and other justice costs, and motor vehicle crashes.

More than 40% of that cost, over $100 billion, is drained from government. In other words, you and I pay for it with our taxes. Another $3.5 billion in costs is incurred by individual states, who of course also get their money from we the taxpayers.

Even with all of the education regarding tobacco abuse and the decline in its use over recent decades, its use remains the single largest preventable cause of disease and premature death in America today.

More than 55 million Americans continue to smoke cigarettes. Another 12.4 million smoke cigars regularly, 8.8 million use smokeless tobacco, and there are 2.3 million pipe smokers. These were the figures presented by the American Cancer Society as of just five years ago.

A 2014 study at Georgia State University revealed that cigarette smoking alone generates as much as $170 billion in health care spending annually here in the United States.

This doesn’t include the simple economic cost of smoking to the user. An average pack of generic cigarettes costs more than $5, with many brands costing even more. Most smokers go through at least a pack per day, so that’s at least $150 per month in basic costs.

Use a pack and half per day, you’re up to $225 per month. Smoke an $8 per pack brand or product? That same pack and a half is now $360 per month. What could consumers and their families do with $360 per month if they were not addicted?

President Richard Nixon first formally declared a “War on Drugs” in June of 1971. The basic cost to the U.S. government to fight that “war” had risen to $1 trillion per a piece by Richard Branson for CNN back in 2012.

And the fact is, we are losing the war. How many times have you seen a local news story in which federal, state, or local law enforcement displays some vast amount of narcotics, cash, and weapons recovered from a drug operation? Was that the last one you would ever see? No. These stories continue to come, month after month, year after year. You’ll likely see another on your local news any day now.

It’s obviously not that law enforcement isn’t doing anything about the problem. Brave police officers at all levels of government are working hard every single day and night trying to enforce the law. In this “war”, some of those brave officers have even lost their lives.

But just as with the prohibition against alcohol a century ago, the prohibition against and war on drugs is a losing proposition.

Throughout the 1920’s and into the early 1930’s, a great deal of law enforcement manpower, time, and financial resources were expended enforcing prohibition against the evil and illegal scourge of alcohol. Officers died enforcing those laws as well.

And then, alcohol prohibition was repealed in 1933. It was all for nothing. Police did their jobs, as they are doing them today. It wasn’t law enforcement that was the problem. It was the law itself. It is long past time to revamp and even repeal many drug laws.

In November 2016, Elevations Health published a piece on the financial costs to the U.S. taxpayer to continue fighting this war. The piece included this summation of those financial costs:

“In 2015 alone $36 billion was spent on the war on drugs, but that number was just for law enforcement and some social services, and does not take into account the cost of incarceration for nonviolent drug offenders once they are arrested and sentenced to jail. Roughly $80 billion is spent each year on incarcerating American prisoners and since 50% of our prison population is serving time for drug-related crimes that means that an additional $40 billion needs to be added to $36 billion price tag for the war on drugs, bringing the grand total to $76 billion.”

The fact is that human beings have used and abused substances almost since the beginning of our existence as a species. Many of the substances now considered illegal were not so at a previous time. The same can be said for other vice crimes such as prostitution.

It is my position that not only would cost to taxpayers go down with decriminalization, but in some cases we might find revenue streams. This is already happening today with the widespread and growing trends involving marijuana.

Can you imagine the decrease in violence which is currently perpetuated in the trafficking of illicit narcotics by cartels and street gangs? What kind of impact would the loss of that violence have on our neighborhoods?

If we continue on, trying to fight this losing battle, we will never find out. We will simply continue with the status quo. And trust me, there are many who are just fine with that status quo. Their own livelihoods depend on it.

More importantly, if we can get to decriminalization we can begin to treat this as what it really is, a health problem. Focus dollars instead on education, prevention, and treatment.

So called “Safe injection sites” might then become some piece of a viable treatment opportunity for folks who were fighting this particular addiction.

Want to argue that the abuse of heroin and the current opioid crisis is killing people every day, while cigarettes and alcohol are not? Seriously? Now who is being naive?

The CDC estimates that cigarette smoking accounts for 480,000 deaths per year in the United States alone. Do the math. That’s 1,315 people dying every single day.

Per the NHTSA, in the year 2016 in the United States there were 10,497 people killed in car crashes involving drunk driving. These were crashes where a driver had a BAC of .08 or greater. Again, do the math. That’s roughly 29 folks every single day.

There are some who are going to question my conservative bona fides after this piece. There are many in law enforcement who are going to think that I have either lost my mind or gone over to some “other side” now that I am in retirement from the profession.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The truth is something that most people are unwilling to deal with. The truth is that this isn’t a war that we are losing – it’s a war that we lost a long time ago. It’s one that we should have never begun fighting, in fact.

There will always be a criminal aspect to drug abuse. If drug users and abusers commit some crime while high, they will pay for that crime, just as drunk drivers and others who commit crimes while intoxicated on alcohol have to pay for their crimes.

In his CNN piece, Branson quoted H.L. Mencken, one of the most influential writers of the early 20th century. On the issue of prohibition, Menchen had this to say. The same sentiment can be applied to the war against drugs:

“Prohibition has not only failed in its promises but actually created additional serious and disturbing social problems throughout society.”

“There is not less drunkenness in the Republic but more. There is not less crime, but more. … The cost of government is not smaller, but vastly greater. Respect for law has not increased, but diminished.”

Tell me why this is a criminal issue rather than strictly a health issue. I’ll wait. Meanwhile, safe injection sites are not the answer as long as drugs remain illegal.

Dealing with that bigger issue is what has a chance to make a real, significant difference in the lives of individuals and communities in the long run.

Corey Haim Should Have Just Said ‘No’

Of all the truly great legacies left to us by the Presidency of Ronald Reagan, one of the truest, simplest, most enduring messages is the one that came from the campaign during those years of his wife, Nancy Reagan.

The validity and importance of her anti-drug campaign with the slogan “Just Say No” was brought home once again today with the overdose death of popular 1980’s child movie star Corey Haim.

This death comes on the exact 22nd anniversary of the death of 1970’s teen heart throb, musician Andy Gibb, the kid brother to the Bee Gees who also abused drugs. Haim was a child star and Gibb died during the very year that the First Lady was popularizing her vital message.

“Just Say No” is a simple slogan, and some of it’s detractors have stated that it is not only simple, but that it is simplistic, even simple-minded. Of course these critics are always the same old liberal “I can do whatever I want with my body and who are you to tell me different” crowd. Funny thing is, when the Haim’s and the Gibb’s die of their excess, these folks are never heard from.

Everyone with half a brain on the planet earth knows that drugs are bad for you. They are addicting, they are debilitating, they destroy lives and families, they drive people to commit crimes, they kill. The cost of drug abuse comes in dollars and cents, both to the addict and to the community that must support the consequences of their actions, but also comes in wasted time and talent.

No one, not Nancy Reagan, not those in the early years of the full-on initial “Just Say No” campaign ever posited, as it’s detractors have lied and still lie, that their only tactic was to tell kids to just say “No” but give them no educational information to back that up. The campaign was and in spirit is still about educating kids fully to the point where they are able and willing to say that “No” at the key moment.

I have had drug abuse and addiction within my own family. I have seen first-hand the ravages to a person’s body and soul that come with this addiction. But while it is very true that drug addiction, like most other addictions to other substances such as alcohol, is a disease, the fact is that it is not only a disease. It is a choice.

People who come down with cancer and other diseases and illnesses do not usually choose them, or take actions that cause them. These illnesses are often hereditary, genetic in nature. Lifestyle decisions do affect most people, from the person who eats too many cheeseburgers over the years and develops heart disease to the person who smokes too many cigarettes and develops lung cancer. These too are choices.

The difference, however, and there is a difference, is that in the vast majority of the cases the drug abuser is a young person, usually one who is not like Haim or Gibb. It is usually one who has not even started out on life’s journey, or barely so, and has not had an opportunity at career or educational or relational success. The choice, and it is a choice, to take the drugs wrecks that opportunity.

When a young person is lost to drug abuse, it is a loss to all of us. How many of those individuals could have made something positive out of their lives? How many could have cured our own illnesses, educated us, entertained us, defended us, protected us, been our leaders? The cost in dollars is significant, but the cost in lost human lives and opportunities for the addict and us all is staggering.

Now some will challenge that drug addiction, or addiction in general, can also be hereditary, and some will say that there is little or nothing that the addict could have done. I challenge that, having lived through it first hand. There is always another choice, another option, another direction. The addict chooses the negative, chooses the darkness. Again, it is a choice.

There always comes a time in every single addicts life where someone approaches them. It could be a friend, an acquaintance, a school classmate, a lover. But someone always approaches them for the very first time offering the drugs. Offering to share it, offering to show them how, offering it even for free that first time.

Every single addict has been told at some point prior to that moment that drugs are bad for them. It is simply too loud a message to ignore. It is taught in homes and schools and on the streets. The negative examples are all around them in the worst homes and neighborhoods. Family members and communities ravaged by the violence and decadence.

So at that pivotal moment, every addict has a choice. Some will say “You just can’t expect a young kid to have the strength or courage” to do the right thing. Baloney. Kids find courage and strength in any number of situations when they want to do it. The simple fact is that the kid makes a conscious choice, usually knowing or having a good idea of the possible outcome, or at the very least the danger.

Often that kid makes that choice when, if they just stepped back and thought about it, they would realize all of the options that they have for a positive direction in life, options that could and likely would be ruined by saying the “Yes” to drugs. But out of the excuses of the pain and loneliness and lack of confidence that we all face during those teen angst years, some seek temporary comfort in bad decisions knowing full well that they are bad.

While it’s fine to be sympathetic, supportive, hopeful and helpful to those close to us who become addicts, what is needed right now is not more embracing of the choices being made by addicts around us, but a return to reinforcing ever more strongly that simple message to kids of “Just Say No” in their lives. When that moment comes for them, they need to care more about their life, their family, their future than looking or acting ‘cool’ in front of some friend or some group.

Families need to understand as well that it is not their fault that their family member makes the choices that they make. You can be the strongest, most loving, most caring family in the world. You can provide solid educational opportunities for your children. You can give them a mostly positive, surely imperfect because you are only human yourself, but nurturing home and lifestyle.

In short, you can give them the foundation that they need to succeed. But you can buy no guaranteed insurance, you cannot make them say “No” at their own key moment.

Just Say No” is as simple a message as there is out there. But it is an effective message. And the fact remains that no matter what some liberal or some addict might want to tell you, had Corey Haim and Andy Gibb simply just said “No” at the pivotal moments, they would be here today. Gibb would be a 52-year old popular entertainer, and Haim would likely have not lived the past decade and a half in depravity, wasting away his talents.

For my own life situation, I still deal with the effects of my family member’s decision to give in and say “Yes” at the pivotal moments. That one first “Yes” turns into a habit, which turns into a compulsion, which turns into an addiction. At that point, yeah, it’s a disease that you are going to have a hard time ever fully beating. But it didn’t start out that way. You never had to go down that path in the first place.

While I pray for the miracle that would be even a reasonably positive life for my own addict, I also pray that no one else in my life makes the same choice, ever. I won’t only pray, but I will pass along that message, to “Just Say No.”

I pray that all of your children and grandchildren when faced with their own moment will have not only the courage and strength, but also the self-respect to embrace that simple idea, to simply “Just Say No.”

85 Shots and ‘One Less Nigga With a Gun’

A year ago at this time, in July 2007, Steven ‘Butter’ Miller (left) was shot at 85 times by Philadelphia police officers. I have sources that say it was actually 81 times. In any event, about two dozen of those shots found their mark, and Miller was dead.

In it’s July 24th-31st, 2008 issues the extremely liberal ‘Citypaper‘ here in Philadelphia, one of those free tabloid style publications distributed throughout the downtown area by placement in stores, business lobbies, and curbside boxes, published a cover story titled ‘85 Shots‘ about the incident.

As could be expected if you understand the source, the Citypaper writers, Doron Taussig and Tom Nammako, told the story in a way that was, in both tone and tenor, completely sympathetic to the alleged victim and extremely critical of the Philadelphia police officers involved in the shooting, as well as their hierarchy in its response.

That’s a shame, because the real problem right here in Philadelphia and in many big American cities today is not unwarranted shootings by rogue groups of police officers.

Actually, one of the biggest problems facing American big cities today is men just like Steven Miller.

Fact is that Miller exited his house that night as a stark-raving mad lunatic waving a gun around in the air, alternately pointing it at officers as well as towards neighbors homes as he waved it.

The officers gave him plenty of warnings to drop the weapon, perhaps even more than they actually needed to give. At a certain point, one officer felt that the circumstances had gotten too dangerous and felt that he needed to discharge his weapon in order to save his own life, the life of a fellow officer, or that of a community member.

It was a hot summer night in South Philly, so it was dark, and when this officers’ shots rang out other officers who had also responded did not know from where these shots were coming. They fired at the man who they saw waving around the gun, Miller, just as they were trained, and they took him down.

One of Miller’s best friends, Daniel Williams, was quoted as saying “…they probably look at it like, that’s one less nigga with a gun.”

Your words, Mr. Williams, but the idea behind them is not so far off from the truth. What this city needs, in fact, is thousands of fewer young men of all races waving around guns. Every one that is stopped from doing so is one less that will harm the rest of us.

The article goes on to actually print the names of seven officers involved that night. It then discusses how the neighbors see these officers now. In the words of one, Tyree Bullock: “Here go this motherf*cker” in reference to the officer who fired first.

How about the mother-bleepers living around you every day, Mr. Bullock? The ones doing the shooting, drug-dealing, pimping, impregnating, and then glamorizing it all in their booming and blaring rap music?

The article also goes on to talk about another of the people in Miller’s life, one Anthony Lawrence, who relates that in the past twenty years he has personally seen 34 deaths in his neighborhood, implying those were violent deaths.

I have lived 46 years and was born and raised in South Philly, and I don’t think that I have known more than a couple people, if that many, who have been killed by violence.

Why have you seen so many, Mr. Lawrence? Why so many, Citypaper? Rogue cops shoot them all down? Not hardly. The fact of the matter is that most of them were killed by men just like Steven Miller.

Before he met his demise, Miller helped perpetuate even more of the problems in the urban world. He had fathered seven children, none of whom he financially supported, by three different women, none of whom he had ever married.

He had been arrested at least once in his life, for drugs of course, and had also been shot once on a playground basketball court. He had wasted away his twenties in a life of drugs and violence and ‘laying back’.

Oh, and in trying to become a rap star, of course, all the while perpetuating the exact lifestyle of huge numbers of young men in his demographic community across the nation. Irresponsibility, criminality, violence, addiction, all frequently glorified by the rap community.

So-called “gangsta rap” is one of the most heinous examples of all-time of a community announcing and advertising for its own demise. Miller’s rap group was named DLK (Down Low Killaz). Nice. And typical.

The article states that Miller was ‘suited up’ (carrying a gun) on the day that he died because he ‘had gotten on bad terms with a dangerous young bull’, meaning that some young thug was looking to gun down Miller for some reason.

The only ‘bull’ that matters in this story is perpetuated by this article, that somehow men like Steven Miller deserve our sympathies. The folks who really deserve our sympathy are the seven whose lives he created, but who didn’t elicit enough love and respect from him that he would go out and get a real job or two to support.

What makes men like Miller and many others in his violent neighborhood around Tasker & Taney Streets decide to turn to drugs and violence, both in the reality of their lifestyle and the glamorization of that same culture, rather than turning it around, staying in school, taking responsibility, and bettering their community?

What makes one man from South Philly into a Steven Miller and another man from West Philly into a Will Smith?

The answer quite simply is personal choices. Steven Miller chose illegitimate fatherhood. Steven Miller chose to get involved with drugs and violence. Steven Miller chose to walk out of a house waving a gun at neighbors and police officers. Steven Miller left those officers with no choice but to fire 85 shots, however many it took, and leave the city with ‘one less nigga with a gun.’

His choice. It is people like the authors of this City Paper article and the editors who chose to run the story with the slant that they did, who make further choices that divide us and make all of us less safe each and every day in the city of Philadelphia.