When at first you don’t succeed, double down and make things worse.
Let’s take a real look at the failed drug policies of the last decade and a half. First, the legalization of hypodermic needles. Second, the needle exchange programs. Finally, the proposal for Massachusetts to allow supervised injection sites for drug users.
Decriminalization of hypodermic needles:
It began in nearly every state with the decriminalization of possession of a hypodermic needle and allowing people 18 and older to purchase them from pharmacies. The theory was that it would reduce the spread of HIV and hepatitis C. In Massachusetts, decriminalization passed by one vote over the veto of then Governor Romney. (If you live in Worcester, your City Manager and overseer of the City Board of Health – Edward Augustus was the deciding vote).
The effect of the decriminalization was that overdoses increased by approximately 742% in less than ten years from the enactment of the law in the City of Worcester, Massachusetts. Law makers simply put into the hands of drug dealers and users the means to inject an extremely cheap and addicting drug.
The unintended consequences of decriminalization were predictable:
Boston Globe, January 8, 2006, “Addicted to Saving Lives”
A bill moving through the state Legislature would decriminalize possession of a hypodermic needle and allow people 18 and older to purchase them from pharmacies. . .
Reducing the spread of HIV and hepatitis C is at the root of the bill, said supporters.
Not all officials, however, believe the bill should be passed.
”I think there’s a potential downside, and it could lead to increased heroin use,” said Lynn Police Chief John Suslak, whose city is a major distribution point for heroin on the North Shore. ”I think it sends a mixed message to the kids in general about how serious the state is in preventing the use of drugs, when, in fact, they’re going to make it legal for anyone to go into any pharmacy and buy a needle.”
Telegram and Gazette, July 24, 2006 “Lawmakers Override Needle Veto”
In vetoing the Pharmacy Access bill, Mr. Romney said unintended consequences could outweigh any benefits of passage.
Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey raised the possibility of an increase in the careless discarding of needles. She also said new cases of AIDS and HIV blamed on shared needles fell from an annual percentage of 32.8 in 1997 to 15.7 in 2004. Meanwhile, she said, the number of people hospitalized annually because of heroin use nearly doubled in that time period and the annual number of fatal overdoses more than tripled.
Discussion of cause and effect:
By putting into the hands of drug dealers and users the means to inject an extremely cheap and addicting drug law makers helped create a full blown drug epidemic.
Take note, the use of the word “helped” above. There is an argument that the drug companies and doctors caused the drug epidemic that is promoted by politicians and isn’t as scrutinized as it should be by the media. The evidence that drug companies and doctors are the primary cause is not overwhelming and tends to be anecdotal. It is also contrary to evidence that “gate way” drugs are a myth. Simply put, the “blame game” narrative advanced by the politicians is simply self-serving as at least 48 states passed the same decriminalization legislation as Massachusetts.
You will never meet a politician that would admit that they might have contributed to a drug epidemic that has killed thousands, but you’ll meet plenty that will point the finger at any other possible cause.
We also know that the overwhelming amount of drugs are pouring over our unsecured borders, but instead of closing the border to the drug dealers, our politicians engage in partisan battles over how to do it.
Needle exchange programs:
According to the Worcester Division of Public Health on November 3, 2015, men aged 20-25 have had an increase in hepatitis C of 137%.
The decriminalization of the sale of needles did not resolve the issue that is was supposed to cure. Instead of a decrease in hepatitis C; rather, it increased by 137% and overdoses increased by approximately 742% in less than ten years from the enactment of the law. (Data concerning HIV was unavailable).
The purpose of the decriminalization of the sale of needles was to reduce the spread of HIV and hepatitis C. It was a total and complete failure. Rather than inquiring if decriminalization should be reconsidered, law makers decided to hand out free needles to drug addicts with the caveat that the drug users will receive the opportunity for treatment by the consultant handing them the needles.
Supervised injection sites:
In Massachusetts, a legislative commission recommended the state approve one or more supervised injection sites for drug users on a test basis. Commission members said the state should allow the sites to see if they can help reduce the harm associated with injecting illegal drugs, including the risk of overdosing alone.
Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker said the state has already taken steps to curb drug-related deaths, including expanding access to the overdose-reversal drug Naloxone and that “the U.S. attorney has made it absolutely crystal clear that he will prosecute anyone who tries to open up a safe injection site in Massachusetts.”
So, Baker’s solution to combat overdoses is Naloxone (Narcan) and he kicks it over to the U.S. Attorney regarding the opening of injection sites. Baker, like the politicians that blame drug companies and doctors, seem completely unwilling to reconsider the statistical relevance of decriminalization of needles.
Truth is, the politicians don’t have any answers other than platitudes and corny catch-phrases:
Telegram and Gazette, February 26, 2019 “Mass. commission recommends creation of supervised injection sites”
Democratic Sen. Cindy Friedman, a member of the committee, acknowledged the idea of giving drug users a place to inject drugs in a supervised setting is uncomfortable.
But she said substance use disorder should be considered an illness – not a moral failure – and the supervised sites are a way to give people a chance to ultimately get free of the drugs.
“Certainly it is uncomfortable for me. The thought of it is not something that sits easy,” she said. “We just need to do everything we can to stop people from dying and allow them to live long enough to decide to get into treatment.”
Friedman and Democratic state Rep. Jeffrey Roy, who also served on the commission, acknowledged they have to try to persuade enough of their lawmakers to approve the proposal.
Roy said the report gives them a body of evidence and data to help make their case for the creation of the supervised sites.
Roy called the proposal “one more tool in the tool box that will help the commonwealth to come out of the grip” of the overdose crisis that has claimed thousands of lives in recent years.
How about instead of talking about tools in the tool box, our politicians take out a pen and strike the bad laws they have enacted?
Whether you believe decriminalization of the sale of needles is a contributing cause to overdoses or not, it has failed to live up to its promise of reducing the spread of hepatitis C. It is essentially a failed piece of legislation.
As our politicians have now moved on to handing out free needles, what is the point of allowing them to be sold legally?
Wouldn’t the promise of an interaction and intervention at the needle exchange center be better than a cash transaction at the counter of a pharmacy?
If at first you don’t succeed, review your plan.