Tag Archives: Prohibition

Safe injection sites and the ‘War on Drugs’

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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.

Islamism Series: What Are We Prepared to Do?

In the 1987 film ‘The Untouchables’, Kevin Costner plays famed lawman Elliot Ness, who is tasked to lead a fight against the violent empire of infamous crime boss Al Capone in Chicago during the Prohibition era.

In the beginning, Ness tries some of the usual law enforcement tactics of the day, but appears to be going nowhere in his efforts to defeat Capone.

Finally his right-hand man in the film, street cop ‘Jim Malone’ as played in an Oscar-winning performance by Sean Connery, turns to Ness and asks him a blunt question:

“What are you prepared to do?”

This is always the single most important question that needs to be asked, understood, and answered before committing to fight any war at any level.

Whether at the level of law enforcement fighting criminal groups to keep the public safe on the home front, or at the level of national armed forces fighting enemies from abroad with the same goal, this simple question cannot be avoided.

Decades ago a war was declared against the United States by the forces of radical Islam around the world. It was declared with public statements, and those statements were backed up with physical attacks against American troops, citizens, and interests abroad and eventually with attacks against the American homeland.

For years the answer to that question of “What are you prepared to do?” seemed to be a tit-for-tat response. They blew up something of ours, we lobbed a missile at something of theirs.

The international community cried if we killed civilians in our attacks, but shed no tears for American Marines and other service persons and civilians killed in attacks against our embassies or troops.

Nothing much changed until finally the radical Islamists were able to pull off a large-scale attack right here on our own shores with the physically, financially, and emotionally devastating attacks of September 11th, 2001 against Washington and New York.

Less than one year into his first term in office, President George W. Bush was faced with the question for the first time: “What are you prepared to do?”And for the first time, an American leader did not pull a knee-jerk response by lobbing a missile.

For perhaps the very first time, an American leader and his team actually sat down and took a good, long, hard look at the reality of the situation.

The United States was not the victim of some random attack by 20 guys who hijacked some planes. America was attacked by an entity which viewed us as a sworn enemy and wanted nothing less than either our destruction or our capitulation to their worldview. Join up with Islam completely or die, that was and is the message from this enemy.

This was not the usual, traditional type of enemy, and fighting them would require an entirely new mindset and commitment level. In days now long gone by we could identify an enemy as a nation-state or group thereof, and largely pinpoint this enemy and defeat them on a geographical battlefield.

The enemy that we now faced was more of a network of ideological radicals scattered in both large and small groups all over the globe, including some in our own country, that was in some cases well-funded and trained. In some cases this network was being expressly, implicitly, or tacitly supported by a nation-state.

Faced with destruction, devastation, and death on his home front on his watch, President Bush answered the question fully when on September 15th, 2001 he said the following:

 “This act will not stand. We will find who did it. We will smoke them out of their holes; we will get them running; and we will bring them to justice. We will not only deal with those who dare attack America, we will deal with those who harbor them, and feed them, and house them. Make no mistake about it. Underneath our tears is the strong determination of America to win this war. And we will win it.”

In this statement, Bush correctly recognized that the problem was not only with the people who actually pulled off the attacks of 9/11, but fully extended to those who supported and nurtured these people both physically and ideologically.

Bush also here became the first American leader to publicly acknowledge that we were at war, and further, he promised that we would win that war. But he also went further, recognizing that this war would be long:

“This crusade, this war on terrorism is going to take a while. And the American people must be patient. I’m going to be patient. But I can assure the American people I am determined, I’m not going to be distracted, I will keep my focus…It is time for us to win the first war of the 21st century decisively, so that our children and our grandchildren can live peacefully into the 21st century.”

The problem was clear, a war was declared on us, attacks were taking place against us, and Americans were dying. The problem was recognized with an acknowledgement that we were indeed at war. The question of what we were prepared to do about it seemed to be answered appropriately: we would fight wherever necessary for as long as necessary to win decisively to ensure lasting peace.

While we dealt them blows on their home bases in Afghanistan and began to establish a democratic foothold in the Middle East both there and in Iraq, the Islamists continued the war with attacks on the trains of Madrid, Spain on March 11th, 2004 and on school children in Beslan, Russia on September 1st, 2004 and on the buses and subways in London, England on July 7th, 2005 among others.

Unfortunately a problem began to develop. As we finally took the fight to the radical Islamists, some Americans, particularly Democratic Party politicians who were out of political power and their media lackeys, all too quickly forgot the pain and destruction of 9/11 and the many other Islamic attacks on America and our allies. They began to use the continuing war and the inevitable American service person deaths as a political football.

During the final 2,682 days of his two terms stretching over more than 7 years following those 9/11 attacks, the policies and strategies of President Bush and his team kept the United States safe from any further successful attacks by a determined enemy who was demonstrating all around the rest of the world that it was still very capable of delivering death and destruction.

The current American administration wants desperately to end our involvement in this war. It was elected largely by painting President Bush as a hateful war-monger and won with a promise to take that very action, in fact. However, on actually taking office and being faced with the reality of the situation themselves, Barack Obama and his people seem surprised to find that is it not America that is the problem after all.

This past week saw a reminder from al Qaeda and the radical Islamists that this war is far from over. They again attempted to use airliners to deliver devastating attacks against the United States on American soil. In fact, they continue to seek nuclear, bio-chemical, radiological and other weapons of mass destruction in what will likely one day be a successful large-scale attack on the United States.

The radical Islamists do not care what American political party is in power. They do not care what the skin color or sex or age is of the American president at any given time. They care only about one thing, that America openly convert to Islam and accept Sharia Law as the ruling cultural influence and legal authority. Anything less will result in the continuation of the war from their end.

That is the real important thing that we need to remember, that a war is not over just because we pull many or even all of our troops out of any country. Vietnam did not end when we Americans fled with our tails between our legs. Instead, the victorious North Vietnamese slaughtered an estimated 4.5 million South Vietnamese who our brave military persons had been protecting. But hey, a bunch of hippies and newscasters felt better, so it was okay.

Unless we become even more determined to fight this war against radical Islam with stronger conventional forces and tactics backed by more determined diplomatic energy and support to the region in finances and infra-structure development over what will likely be decades of commitment, we will lose. And the ramifications of our failure now will be even greater than our failure to win in Vietnam.

It likely won’t happen suddenly or overnight, and maybe not even over one generation. But Islam and its accompanying discrimination, intimidation, and hatred will eventually win out. Either that, or some totalitarian regime of Communism led by Russia or China will become the dominant power. The failure this time of the world’s beacon of freedom, the United States of America, will be a devastating blow to freedom everywhere.

So as every bomb explodes, as every school is attacked, as every head is lopped off, as more Americans are threatened and killed, as our leadership continues to talk tough after an attack while plotting our retreat the question begins to shout out to the American public. Do you want to become Islamic, or die? If the answer is neither, then you are again faced with that one simple question: what are you prepared to do?

NOTE: This continues the ongoing ‘Islamism Series’, each entry of which can be viewed by clicking on to that tag below