A veteran law enforcement officer called for an end to the prohibition of heroin and other opiates in a Boston Globe column.
Jack Cole, a police officer for 26 years who is now chairman of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, said his 14-year experience as an undercover narcotics officer taught him that police caused more harm than good for drug addicts.
“The damage came from people — cops — doing what I did: dragging buyers and sellers away from their families and slamming them into the criminal justice system, depriving both them and their neighborhoods of all hope,” Cole wrote in the column published Sunday. “I witnessed people we disparagingly called ‘junkies’ dying with needles in their arms not because heroin is a poison but because the heroin was poisoned. I did more harm than good, and the harder my colleagues and I tried, the more damage we did.”
He said heroin overdoses had increased ninefold since the start of the war on drugs – which he said did nothing to reduce supply or demand and, in fact, made illegal drugs even more dangerous.
“Heroin’s status as a Schedule I illegal drug has ceded its control and distribution to the most unscrupulous and unregulated players among us with the predictably tragic results,” Cole said.
He said the chief of police in Taunton, Massachusetts, recently admitted the arrest of a major dealer had made no impact on the street price or use of heroin – which “is precisely the opposite of what drug warriors promise” – and Cole said prohibition had cause “Al Capone-like street violence” in other cities.
“After nearly a half century of the US as the arrest capital of the world, the endless cycle in and out of our prisons shows little sign of slowing,” Cole said.
Cole compared alcohol, which a legal potentially lethal substance that is highly regulated, with heroin, which is often mixed with other substances by dealers looking to maximize their profits.
“Both casual and addicted drinkers know what they’re getting; quality control and purity are non-issues,” he said. “There is no ‘epidemic’ of ‘baffling’ deaths related to alcohol. And there has been no underground, black-market economy built up around street dealers pushing alcohol on our children.”
Cole said attitudes about heroin had recently changed as its use has moved out of primarily urban areas into suburban and rural areas.
“We are seeing the birth of more non-judgmental approaches that include open dialogue about stigmatization and increased availability of health insurance to cover treatment programs — and these changes have borne fruit,” he said. “That has certainly been the case as more and more police officers carry and use the overdose reversal drug, naloxone, saving countless lives.”
He said supervised injection sites in other countries, including Canada, had dramatically reduced the risk of blood diseases, such as hepatitis C and HIV, associated with illegal drug use and completely eliminated overdose deaths at those locations.
“Drug addiction is a manageable disease and societal issue as long as we help, not hunt, those suffering from it,” Cole said. “And once we stop the endless chase, these vulnerable people can finally focus on getting their disorganized lives together and begin the long process of recovery.”
[Image: A man injects himself with heroin via Shutterstock]