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A month in the life of the drug war

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Author: Kurt St. Angelo

A month in the life of the drug warby Kurt St. Angelo@2005 Libertarian Writers' Bureau

Near the end of my Libertarian campaign for Marion County Prosecutor in Indianapolis in 2002, I noted stories by news partners WTHR-TV Channel 13 (NBC) and the Indianapolis Star newspaper that supported my outspoken political position against the war on drugs. There were very few news stories, if any, which did not support my view.

It is my Libertarian view that the drug prohibition policies of Democrats and Republicans are ineffective, wasteful, hypocritical, and destructive. The policies are a leading - if not the leading - cause of crime in America, including violent crimes. As odd as this may seem, Americans overwhelmingly vote for policies that actually promote crime. For example ...The first notation I made was on October 31 when WTHR reported that two suspects were arrested for shooting an Anderson, Indiana police officer in the hand during an armed robbery of a drug store. The thieves stole tens of thousands of dollars in narcotics including hydrocodone and Oxycontin.

Suspect Jack Lankford, who looked to be in his forties, admitted to being a drug addict since he was 15 or 16. That the police wanted to know if the two suspects were tied to a string of drug store heists suggests that they recognize a causal relationship between addiction, prohibition and crime that leaders of both major parties have not been willing to admit.

On November 3, the Star reported that illegal drug exchanges between the elderly is both common and risky - because such illegal drug users are "out of the loop" of doctor protection. Three days later, the Star carried an article about how between 1997 and 2000, doctors prescribed medications to adults that potentially caused 3,750 serious injuries, birth defects and deaths in children under 2 years old. Statistically, this makes drug companies and doctors hundreds of times more dangerous to children than, say, marijuana dealers.

On November 4, Steve Johnson of WTHR presented a report about car theft. He interviewed inmate Shawn Jackson who admitted to stealing cars to support a drug habit. "Every time a thief takes a car in our state it drives up every drivers' insurance," Johnson said. Given this, wouldn't we be smarter to give Jackson the freedom to get drugs cheaply so that he wouldn't need to steal cars, or as many of them? That's what we've done for decades at methadone treatment centers, with the goal of reducing theft.

On November 5, the Star reported that a woman pleaded guilty to selling her Oxycontin prescriptions. Like heroin and methadone, Oxycontin is an opiate. Some users crush the tablet and swallow, snort or inject the drug for rapid and intense heroin-like highs. Surely this abuse is not rare in the over 7 million OxyContin prescriptions legally filled in the U.S. each year.

On November 8, the Star carried an AP story about seven people charged in drug-weapons plots involving al-Qaida and a Colombian paramilitary group. Without drug prohibition, these groups would get only one-tenth the money for their opium and cocaine than they do today. Prohibition is the best funding mechanism ever devised for terrorists and drug cartels. Ending it, and allowing the free market to address the demand for drugs, is the only responsible alternative.On November 13, the Star reported that a drug dealer received 25 years for his role in importing drugs to this state. (Contrast this with WTHR's report on November 23 about a repeat child-molester named George Vance who recently served only nine months.) Despite the success of drug stings, the police cast doubt on whether they can cut the flow of drugs. "Unfortunately, drugs have such a grip that someone else will be (ready to sell them) because there is money to be made," said the article's quoted expert.

On November 15, the Star reported that the state police are keeping a list of people within the state who buy painkillers prescribed by doctors. Yet six days later, the paper announced that some of the most addictive prescription drugs on the market are not monitored at all in Indiana. This means that the state is no more protecting us from prescription drug abuse than from the illegal kind. And thanks to our misguided drug policies, only the black market offers medical privacy.

Also on November 15, the Star's web site carried an interview with Lt. Randall West, 31-year police veteran and head of the Dangerous Drugs Section of the Indianapolis Police Department. Lt. West said almost exactly what I did during my Libertarian campaign for Prosecutor: that "(a)s long as there's a profit in dealing drugs, we're pretty much fighting an uphill battle."

On November 19, the Star reported that one Indianapolis pharmacy filled 120 prescriptions of narcotic OxyContin for Colts' owner Jim Irsay. The article said that in one 24-day period last spring, Irsay got 400 tablets of the narcotic. This quantity is almost a year's supply for thousands of other chronic pain-sufferers who needlessly struggle to get their needs met through our present system.

The Libertarian solution to our present drug mess is to treat everyone as if they owned an NFL franchise. Return to people the freedom to treat their own conditions any way they choose - just like rich Americans can now - with strong doses of expert consultation from doctors, pharmacists, nutritionists, and other health professionals. We shouldn't have to be rich and fly to a foreign country to get our drug needs met. Advancing freedom of choice and self-responsibility, as opposed to governmental control, will improve health, cut costs and save lives.

November 23 was also a big day in drug news. The Star reported 1) that Damen Lake, a felon caught in a high speed car chase, was a crack addict wanted for robbery, 2) that an Indianapolis drug distribution company was fined $350,000 by the DEA because "hundreds of thousands of dosage units of controlled substances, such as hydrocodone and Tylenol with codeine, were missing," and 3) that a prominent Indianapolis plastic surgeon who supplied Irsay surrendered his federal permit to prescribe narcotics.

I have to hand it to the Indianapolis Star newspaper and WTHR television. Their reporters definitely give us enough information to make good political decisions. Almost without exception, their numerous drug stories in November 2002 factually demonstrate the Libertarian view that drug prohibition cannot succeed and that it does far more harm than good.

I suspect November 2002 is similar in drug news to that of today. I invite you to use your local media to chronicle the destructiveness of our drug policies in your community. If it weren't for prohibition, there would be fewer drug store heists, car thefts, prescription abuses, car chases, murders, and acts of terrorism. There would be less bad news to report.

The solution is political. It means voting against the political parties that gave us our dysfunctional and destructive drug policies. The ultimate solution is to free everyone from others' control. That is the meaning of liberty. What are we waiting for?

About the Author

Attorney, screenwriter and Libertarian Party activist in Indianapolis

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