Dave Finch: Open letter to President Trump
November 10, 2017
Your national address on the opioid overdose epidemic was a welcome demonstration of concern for what you aptly described as both a health emergency and a national shame.
Your speech was remarkable also for what you did not say. Your advisors and writers should know much more than was discussed.
Principal among your omissions is the fact that can be found in the data reported by the government funded SAMHSA survey, that close to 200,000 new substance use disorders form each year, not among adults, but among minors — our nation's children. The percentage of drug addicted users who began use after age 21 drops precipitously to 1 in 25 from the 1 in 10 who started before age 18. And, as the Center for Addiction and Substance Abuse has found, 90 percent of adult addicts began the use of mind altering substances before the age of 18.
Adolescence is a time of heightened vulnerability to addiction. It commonly strikes those with inadequate recreational and developmental resources, and those with emotional imbalances. The idea that we can educate our young away from drugs has proven naïve for decades. Those with troubling issues of anxiety and depression are not listening to the pieties of others about drug use.
The real reason this is happening was also omitted from your speech.
According to author and expert Professor Mark Kleiman it is the adult users on whom the traffickers depend for the profits motivating them to smuggle drugs across our borders, not the teenagers who have little money to spend. That adult market was created by — is a direct result of — our use of criminal law for the purpose of controlling drugs. This was predicted 80 years ago by police chief and university professor August Vollmer in his book, "Police and Modern Society." Law enforcement can stop a lot of illicit trade, but not enough to prevent supplying the demand. The result has been the influx of all the drugs, often tainted substances and the highly dangerous fentanyl, used to spike powder heroin, and sometimes pressed into counterfeit pills.
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And, so instead of keeping drugs away from kids, our drug prohibition policy fosters the profitable trade that puts them in the way of kids — making illicit drugs pervasively available through tens of thousands of dealers and user-dealers spread through practically every county of America.
In other words, Mr. President, the real way to stop drug use and addiction of minors, which is our stated national priority, is to permit adult use of controlled and regulated, legally manufactured drugs. It is not the legal opioids that are killing people by the tens of thousands each year, but illegal heroin and fentanyl along with the toxic combinations of substances people don't understand.
There are about 27 million illicit drug users in the U.S. according to SAMHSA and about 25 million of them are adults — fewer than 8 percent of us. It would not be difficult to let them obtain drugs through controlled dispensaries (not retail stores) with which they could be registered and which, through counselors, could help control the way they manage and use them.
Mr. President, the heroin and fentanyl, the cocaine and methamphetamine from Mexico and China, do not enter our country across the land borders where walls can stop them. They come by cars and trucks, boats and planes. Except to the extent smugglers use underground tunnels, and they do, they use our ports of entry. Your wall is not likely to help much.
But with regulated drugs with purchase limits on adults and other controls, we can eliminate many tens of thousands of new adolescent substance disorders each year and shrink both the use and addiction problem, while virtually shutting down the trafficking and all the crime and violence that goes with it.
There is an old saying about working smart instead of working hard. Mr. President, your commitment to the problems of drugs in society is admirable, but you of all people should recognize that a nation that has tried to solve them without success for a century is not working smart.
Dave Finch, author of "Kill the Drug Trade," lives and writes about drug issues in Penn Valley.