A Radical Reform

In a new book, coming soon, (Making Peace with Drugs) I dilate further on the reform system I proposed in Kill the Drug Trade. Drug users would be allowed to buy drugs in a controlled dispensary system. More humane than the catch and cage regime now in place, the twofold purpose of the new approach is (1) to end the access of kids to illegal drugs, and (2) to bring adult users into the fold of a health oriented program.

Modern science and survey data both strongly support the claim I, among many others, make that a use tolerant policy promotes a more law abiding and orderly society. The only downside is that some users will use longer. All, however, will live healthier. Overall use will drop because the system curtails use by adolescents. New addiction cases decline in number. Here’s how.

Dispensing FDA supervised drugs to adult users at ultra low prices, in a tightly controlled program, would put the drug dealers out of business. No dealer could stay in business without the vast adult market–in individual communities and true nationwide.  Data from SAMHSA shows that minors make up less than 1 in 5 potential customers in the market.

And, what terrible customers they make. Most minors lack the resources to buy drugs in the quantities necessary to incentivize the flow of heroin, cocaine and meth out of Mexico. Teens and preteens do get street dealer drugs sometimes, but they buy lower quantities. Just as often they use pilfered pain pills. Most of them are not yet working and though some steal or deal to get drugs, the numbers just are not there. And so, absent an adult market, peddlers drift away to greener pastures–and adolescents lose access to the products they sell.

This market forces idea underlies arguments for legalization. But, legalization without the controls built in to the distribution process no way to prevent leakage of drugs to minors. Just as they do with alcohol today, minors would get drugs through older friends, or agent buyers, or with fake IDs. The substance disorder cases,hundreds of thousands of new ones each year, might drop a little, but only  a little.

Moreover,  with retailing expenses and taxation, legal drugs still could not compete with the Mexican products. This has been shown in Colorado’s experiment with commercializing  marijuana. Drug expert Kevin Sabet explained in a debate with libertarian Gary Johnson that the customers of Colorado’s pot shops are mostly AARP members and out-of-towners–and the illegal sellers enjoy a robust business because their prices are cheaper.

The reform I propose, could begin when the feds allow states to experiment along the following lines: Safely manufactured drugs would be dispensed not in retail stores, but directly to the adult user, mostly through remote ordering of limited quantities–just enough for a stated period, say, a month. The products would be shipped from large warehouses at a fraction of retailing costs. Clients would qualify to buy by agreeing to cooperate in a robust program of controls, overseen by personal coaches. The role of the coaches is to teach and insist upon non-abusive drug use, not to provide rehab services.  Moderation is a precursor to eventual addiction recovery. Safe and sure dispensation helps with this. It removes the stresses of getting and paying for drugs–such as committing crime to afford them–preoccupations that serve as internal cues triggering more drug wanting.

The coaches are also valuable allies to the addicted. They do not judge or condemn, but assist their clients in stabilizing. They offer assistance with employment, housing, and health care–and information on rehab when it is wanted. Just as we see in needle exchanges, heroin assisted treatment, and supervised injection sites, clients treated with a modicum of respect often begin to make progress on their own. They no longer need to steal, deal or prostitute themselves to buy drugs. They gain time and space to think about better life styles. There is ample data to show this works to redirect the addict’s focus and motivation.

Pharma companies can supply each of the popular drugs, and create new and safer ones. For example buprenorphine, used to treat addicts, could be made available. It produces a high similar to heroin, but does not promote craving or withdrawal.  Each willing state, could try out the reform with pilot programs limited to one or more cities or counties.  As users, attracted by safe drugs at lower prices and freedom from the risk of arrest join the program, the peddlers move to greener pastures. Drugs become unavailable to kids in the area the dealers have vacated.

My books detail the nuts and bolts that hold the whole idea together and help assure that it works. While it sounds elaborate and complicated, it is entirely doable. Anyone got a better idea?

© All rights reserved to Dave Finch 3/11/2017

Available in Kindle and print editions on Amazon and in print at Barnes & Noble.


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