Tag Archives: War on Drugs

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.

Corey Haim should have just said ‘No’

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Former teen star Corey Haim at a March 2009 fashion event in Los Angeles at age 37

 

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 of this world 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 even Nancy Reagan in those 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 then 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 the first time and in the early uses, wrecks that opportunity. When a young person is lost to drug abuse, it is a loss to all of us.

How many of those addicts could have made something positive out of their lives? How many could have cured our own illnesses, educated us, entertained 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, at least in the beginning, 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, even dangerous.

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, 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 there is no guarantee insurance that you can purchase. You cannot be with them at every event, in every situation. You cannot force them to say “No” at their own key moment of choice.

Just Say No” is as simple a message as there is out there. But it is an effective message.

The fact remains that no matter what some liberal thinker or some drug 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. 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, yes, the “disease” of addiction takes over, one 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 of 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.”

Islamism Series: The Unholy Trinity

Though they have existed since the earliest moments of the very first terrorist groups in man’s history, the links between today’s ‘modern’ terror groups, particularly the Islamofascists that have declared open war on the United States and all of western civilization, and criminal activity is escalating at an alarming rate.

For years now we have been warned that links were forming between Islamofascist groups such as al Qaeda, Hezbollah, the Tamil Tigers, and others with South American drug cartels. What would make such seemingly disparate groups get together in the first place?

The Islamofascists would, on the face of things, seem to be against everything that the drug cartels support. The Islamists want society run completely by Sharia Law, the Islamic religious authority and rules, and both the use of illicit drugs and the violence that accompanies their trafficking would be against that law.

From their side one would think that the last thing that the drug cartels would want would be some radical religious group that is vehemently against their business interests and that would eradicate them if possible coming to worldwide power, or even to expand their influence in any region that the cartels service.

However, the motivations of these two groups are such that they are finding in one another an ally, at least temporarily and in the short term, against an even bigger, stronger, more organized, more powerful foe. Specifically that would be the United States of America.

Drug cartels know that the dismantling of U.S. power and influence in the Americas would leave them freer to peddle their narcotics in North America and all around the world. The Islamofascists know that an America overwhelmed by the depravity of drug addiction and it’s accompanying ills would grow ever weaker and easier to overthrow.

We always need to remember that the Islamofascist view is a long view. They are in no hurry to overthrow America and our influence. They understand that we are big and powerful and technologically advanced. They believe that simply by slowly undermining our society that we will eventually become overwhelmed by our own weaknesses and collapse internally.

Just a few weeks ago, Ambassador David Johnson, the Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, delivered a speech titled “The Escalating Ties Between Middle Eastern Terrorist Groups and Criminal Activity” to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

As a key feature of his speech, Ambassador Johnson pointed out what he referred to as ‘The Unholy Trinity’ of corruption, crime, and terrorism. This ‘unholy trinity’ is united for ideological and economic reasons. The criminal groups want money, they care only about their bottom line.

The violence of one group, the financial wherewithal of another, and the political access of others has opened the door to the increasingly real possibility of the introduction of weapons of mass destruction. The use of some biological, chemical, radiological, or nuclear weapon against the United States is now really only a matter of time and location.

While it is unlikely moving into the future that we will be able to stop every single terrorist attempt on our people, and while none of us want to live in such an authoritarian society as would be necessary to absolutely minimize that threat, there are things we can due to keep our society free, open, and strong.

In his speech, Ambassador Johnson called for continuing and increasing the strategies of ‘smart power’ and international cooperation. That ‘smart power’ would include continuing to raise awareness around the world on counter-narcotics and counter-crime issues through increased and intensified diplomacy.

International cooperation will be essential in lessening the world’s vulnerabilities to these threats. Both with law enforcement and as the Ambassador stated by “building up governance capacity, supporting committed reformers, and strengthening the ability of citizens to monitor public functions and hold leaders accountable for providing safety, effective public services, and efficient use of public resources.”

The bottom line is that the United States of America needs to continue to do what it has always done since our founding. That would be to stand up for freedom and democracy both here at home and around the world. The freer a people is, the less susceptible they are to radical influences, and the more secure they and the entire world become.

Corrupt governments in other nations must know that we will not deal with them, and we need to strongly support those who would challenge that corruption from within. Criminal groups must be pursued aggressively with every means at our disposal, both here at home as well as at their foreign sources where that is the case. Finally, terrorist groups and the nations that harbor them must be defeated both militarily and ideologically.

This truly is a war. These efforts will not be easy, and they are not for the weak or the faint-hearted. They require strong men and women implementing the measures needed and they require a strong national will.

More than anything else, they require that we as Americans ourselves return to our moral and spiritual roots as a nation. Only from that solid footing set for us by our Founding Fathers can we fight off the continuing threats of Islamofascism and it’s supportive unholy trinity.

NOTE: this is the continuation of the ‘Islamism Series’, all entries of which can be viewed by clicking on the tag

What Are You Prepared to Do?

In the motion picture “The Untouchables”, Kevin Costner plays legendary FBI man Elliot Ness. He is trying to break the grip of organized crime on the city of Chicago, and is running into obstacles at every turn when his partner puts things into clear resolve.

Sean Connery’s grizzled veteran police character turns to Ness and asks the key question: “What are you prepared to do?

It is this very response that is the key question that needs to be asked when talking about the big problems in our world today.

There are many well meaning people in America who are concerned about Third World hunger. There are many well meaning people who are concerned about AIDS in Africa.

There are many well meaning people who are concerned about illicit human and drug-trafficking. There are many well meaning people who are concerned about illegal aliens flooding into the United States.

There are many well meaning people who are concerned about ethnic cleansing in various nations. There are many well meaning people who fully understand the danger from and are concerned about the spread of radical Islam.

But most of these people don’t have a clue as to what they should do next. Many simply resort to the easiest thing for them individually: they write a check. “Hey, if I mail off $20 to some organization each month, I can feed one child. If everyone did that, we could feed all the children.”

Nice sentiment, but is it true? The organization doesn’t take your $20 and go shopping for the child whose photo and alleged ‘bio’ they sent to you. They pool all the money sent by people like you, and put it together in trying to improve conditions in some particular village or country. There are many good people, Christian missionaries and others, out there trying to do this good, necessary work.

Unfortunately as often as the food and medical shipments get through to the village, they are even more frequently intercepted by military regimes in those nations, and sometimes by the governments themselves, and dispersed to a privileged few. That is the reality of what happens to the supplies bought by the check that you write.

It is exactly what happened to the massive amounts of food and supplies purchased by the huge ‘USA for Africa’ effort that culminated in the storied ‘Live Aid’ concerts of the mid-1980’s. In the end, a lot of people heard some good music, donated some money, and went home feeling good about themselves. But they never bothered to look into what all this happiness actually accomplished.

That is the nature of much of liberal idealism: everyone be nice and take care of one another. All we are saying is give peace a chance. Feed the world. It takes a village. Why can’t we all just get along? But that is not in any way effective in the reality of trying to actually accomplish something.

The unfortunate fact of real life is that there are bad people in the world who simply will not allow that to happen. These people are motivated only by power and their own greed. The check that you write, the rock concert that you attend, the time that you donated in packing and shipping goods, none of it matters to them. When the boat arrives with the rice and medicine and equipment, they will steal it for themselves.

There is only one way to deal with the situation. Think about it. Unfortunately, liberal idealists never want to ‘go there’. Words like ‘security’, ‘force’, and ‘war’ are dirty words to them.

You cannot simply buy stuff here in America, send it over on boats, and dump it on some dock in Africa. You need to then secure the supplies as they are unloaded and shipped to villages, and then need to ensure that the supplies are actually dispersed to the people for whom they were intended.

This all takes security forces on the ground. And when the inevitable local warlords and militants try to steal the supplies, it will take more than waving a flag and saying ‘sorry, this is not for you’ to make them stop.

And you won’t solve the problems by one ship load of food and supplies. If you really want to stop hunger in Africa, then you will need to continue such shipments repeatedly. You will need to help the people learn to build and grow on their own, using their own natural resources.

All of this will require continued security. But the evil people don’t want your help. They just want you to go away so that they can return to dominating the region and controlling the people, abusing them for whatever purposes they desire.

This is what you have to be willing to overcome. But you don’t want to commit our American troops to Africa to fight these evil people, because that will take a near permanent commitment, at least will take decades.

It will cost thousands of young Americans their lives fighting in the jungles of Africa to help build a civilization that can sustain itself. It will take decades and cost thousands of young American lives fighting in the fields of South America and the streets of America to truly win the War on Drugs. It will take decades and cost thousands of young American lives to fight off those who use ethnic cleansing as a tactic in Africa or Eastern Europe.

But liberal idealists have already proven that they are not willing to continue similar efforts in the Middle East to help free people and protect nations from the grip of Islamofascism, right?

The question for all those good meaning people in America who have legitimately big hearts and really want to help make the world a better place remains the same as it ever was: “What are you prepated to do?”