There has been a lot of talk lately about the War on Drugs. Most of the people I read are against it, for one reason or another. Libertarians oppose it because it restricts people's freedoms (I know that's rather broad, but I don't want to get into every little detail of the argument) and liberals that I've been around hate it because, well, they want to do the drugs. Maybe it was just the Seattle people who's attitude I've seen, I dunno. But Ann Althouse, guest-blogging at Instapundit, links to an NYT article and states "...if you really believe in individual moral responsibility, you should let people make their own decisions about drugs."
As a basic premise, that statement is true. Giving people the go-ahead to do whatever they want to their own body really is about individual moral responsibility. However, having dealt with drug addicts both on the Law Enforcement side of things as well as the medical angle, I can say that allowing people to do whatever drugs they want infringes on everyone else's freedoms and rights, as well as adding to the decline of public safety and the rise of crime rates in whatever area the addicts are in.
One phrase that I have heard time and time again when it comes to being in a leadership position is that 10% of the people under you take up 90% of your time and resources. It's the 10-10-80 rule. In any average unit, be it in the military or the corporate world, 80% of your people do their job, meet the standard, don't cause any trouble, and make sure things run smoothly. 10% of your people exceed the standard, busting their butts and leading the way for everyone else. And the last 10% are the ones who are the trouble makers. They are the time consuming people who make leaders gnash their teeth and pull out their hair.
The same holds true for populations at large for the most part. People who work in law enforcement, the medical field, emergency response, ect spend the greater part of their time and resources dealing with a very small percentage of the population. And when it comes to law enforcement and medical, that small percentage of the population are mostly the criminals and drug addicts.
Ten drug addicts in Seattle cost the Harborview Hospital over one million dollars in 2003. That's money that isn't paid back to the hospital. Over one million dollars in treatment to people who choose to put various drugs into their body. And that's only for the ten addicts who stumble into the hospital more than any others. That doesn't count the others who come in to the hospital two or three times a year, using up hundreds of thousands of dollars each in treatment. Hundreds of thousands of dollars that the hospital doesn't get back.
In the hospital I worked at, we had one heroin addict that used up three hundred thousand dollars in one treatment. We've had others who, due to their use of drugs, had a hospital stay of four months and well over half a million dollars in treatment, all of it unreimbursed. Where else could that money go to? Millions of dollars are used up by drug addicts who are in the hospital because they made the choice to do drugs. How many people who needed medical treatment to due accidents could those millions of dollars treat? The Left howls about people in this country being uninsured, but I'm telling you now that there is enough money to treat common medical problems for most the uninsured people that are out there. However, it's being used up by the afore mentioned 10%.
Why not let people make their own decision about drugs? Because that small percentage again effects more than just themselves. Crime rates go up anywhere there is a large addict population, be it vandalism, burglery and theft, or assault. If people just got high and stayed at home, it wouldn't be an issue, but only the most naive or willfully ignorant people think that addicts do that. Many addicts steal to get the money for their next high. Some assault people to get cash, or because their drug-hazed brain can't determine whether that person walking by is just going home or coming to beat them up.
The Ave in the U District in Seattle is the perfect example of what happens to an area that allows people to "make their own moral decisions regarding drugs". Once a thriving business district as well as a cultural center of the university, the Ave is now a strip of concrete increasingly devoid of businesses, sporting a high crime rate, sidewalks filled with addicts and their refuse, and a source of much of the crime in the areas that surround it. Businesses lose customers when those customers have to step over an addict covered in his own feces in order to get to your door. People don't want to walk down the street and be hassled for handouts by aggressive panhandlers who haven't showered in two months, or deal with the stench of urine and feces that the addicts have left on the sidewalks. And it's hard to have a cultural event such as an art show when the people who want to see your art are getting stabbed, robbed, and driven off by the addicts who only care about getting high again.
If the people who took drugs only affected themselves, I would have no problem with letting people take whatever the hell they want in order to get high. But an addicts drug use has an effect on a much larger percentage of the population.
The NYT article talks about meth labs, and states "Shutting down every meth lab in America wouldn't eliminate meth because most of it is imported, but the police and prosecutors have escalated their efforts anyway and inflicted more collateral damage."
First of all, I have seen no evidence to state the premise that most meth is imported. If any reader cares to update me, drop me a line. Secondly, the simple fact is that meth labs are toxic in nature, to the point that some discovered labs that have been operating for months have to be declared a Superfund Site due to the toxiscty of the area. The fires caused by meth labs put police, firefighters, and rescue personel in more danger than if they were going to gas station fire. Iodine, ammonia, sulfer, psudoefedrine and all the other chemicals used can kill someone who accidentally inhales the smoke from a meth lab fire, or disable them to the point that they can never go back to their job again. Ever.
People on both the Left and the Right continually miss the point that the small percentage of the population who are addicts affect not only themselves, but a much larger percentage of the population around them. Until that problem can be dealt with, there must be a large effort to curb drug use in some form or another. The current War on Drugs can be scrapped, but only if we continue to fight drug use in other fashions.
In my opinion, the War on Drugs has been a collossal failure, but not because of the notion that we should allow people to do whatever drugs they want. It's a failure because it attempts to deal with the symptoms of drug use without ever deterring the drug use itself. If I were put in charge of the War on Drugs, I would make a very simple announcement:
Should someone need social or medical services due to their drug use, that person will be denied those services.
If you have an MRSA infection due to sticking yourself with a dirty needle when you did heroin, you don't get taxpayer funded medical treatment. If that means you die, so be it. You did it to yourself. It was your choice. Your "moral judgement about drugs". If you get into an accident because you were drunk, we leave you in your car and tell you to have a nice night. What happens to you is no concern of ours, as you made the choice to drive drunk, not us. Your meth lab caught on fire? We'll stop the fire from spreading to the area around it, but we won't lift a finger to save your place. And if you're burned from the fire, you are denied any public funds to treat your injuries. I hope you made enough money selling meth to cover the costs of the hospital burn center.
And at the very end, the addicts will use the one taxpayer funded service they'll ever use again: The morgue, and the public cemetary.
Now THAT will help keep people off drugs.