Ever wonder what would happen to the United States’ ghastly drug-addiction problem if we (or rather, the relevant authorities) treated it like a medical, psychological, and sociological conundrum instead of a criminal blight? If we tried to treat and manage addiction instead of giving addicts long prison sentences? If we didn’t spend hundreds of billions of dollars and decades of man-hours on draconian law enforcement that has led to little besides cheaper, more abundant narcotics? If we looked at the problem–and as cautiously pro-drug as I am, I realize it is a capital-p Problem on a whole lot of personal and sociocultural and medical levels–and said, “Hey, we’ve been pursuing one strategy for 40 years, and it hasn’t worked at all; maybe we should try something else”?
Western Europe and Canada have been taking saner, less punitive approaches for some time now. All sorts of crazy liberal public-health stuff, like needle exchanges and free rehab (instead of years in prison) and aggressive disease testing and treatment. These more “lenient” (read: less insane, anti-factual, and cruel) strategies have led to–gasp–lower addiction rates, fewer overdoses, radically diminished rates of HIV and Hep-C infection, and less violent crime (on the part of both addicts desperate for money for a fix & the networks of international thugs who supply the product). For a good look at how such policies are playing out, read Matthew Powers’ “The Vancouver Experiment,” a multi-part report from the ‘couve that Slate is publishing this week. Without pretending that anyone has found a magical cure for drug abuse and the misery and loneliness that both causes and attends it, Powers does a superb job of demonstrating what happens when government begins forming policy around, you know, facts, instead of hysterical, ignorant fear.