Editor’s note: Following National Alcohol and Drug Addiction Recovery Month, we’ve asked several individuals to share their ideas about addiction issues and the war on drugs.
“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” — Albert Einstein
I have worked for over 30 years in emergency medicine. We have measured that between 60%-80% of our patients who lack insurance are there due to addiction. Coding systems categorize by final diagnosis, e.g. “forearm laceration,” but when the record is closely examined, it turns out that the laceration occurred because the patient broke a window during a burglary to get money for drugs.
I ask addicts three questions. What is the daily price tag of your addiction? Answer: $20-$100/day. What do you do to get the money? Answer: sell drugs, steal, prostitution, work if available. Would you go into a drug treatment program now? Answer: Yes, but none is immediately available.
Quick and conservative estimate: $50/day x 60,000 addicts in Baltimore metro area x 365 days/year = $1.1 billion.
Analyzed from an economic view, the drug business is amazing. Product (poppy, coca) is grown, refined, and shipped into every city in the U.S. A vast distribution network ensures that product is readily available down to the street corner level. Financial systems turn the cash of the “dime bag” into multi-billion dollar operations, complete with money laundering, banking, and investment, not to mention the expensive security enforcement required by an illegal industry.
When constituents ask me about their rising health insurance premiums or fear of crime, I respond that addiction is at the source. But after 40+ years of the “War on Drugs,” our society is no better off and probably worse. Jammed prisons, AIDS, destroyed families, crime victims, terrorist funding: the toll is immense. Addiction treatment is a critical step but just a beginning. Isn’t it time our society had a full, open, honest, and intense discussion about drugs? Shouldn’t we admit that the War on Drugs has failed and that other policies deserve exploration? Prohibition didn’t cure alcoholism in the 1920s; it only fueled organized crime. Like that well-intentioned but failed experiment, is it now time to end drug prohibition? Is it time to consider a system of regulation, taxation, treatment, and real control?