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Backsliding into bad drug war policy

By Scott Tibbs, May 20, 2016

We have made some progress in the failed War on Drugs over the last few years. It actually seems like our national focus is shifting away from the punitive policies of the past that have not only failed, but have unnecessarily ruined so many lives. But the increased use heroin and illegal use of prescription opioids has us teetering on the edge of a moral panic that will cause us to lurch backward into the same old failures.

Charging drug users with murder for sharing drugs with someone else is absurd. These people are not murderers. At worst, they are guilty of negligence or reckless homicide - and sometimes not even that. A charge of murder should require an intent to actually end someone's life, which is absolutely not true with the cases profiled in the Washington Post. Should there be some sort of penalty for providing an illegal drug that kills someone? That is reasonable. But that is not murder and should not be charged as such.

Remember, these people are not drug kingpins or even street-level drug dealers. They are drug users themselves, sharing their high with someone else. There is a reason many states have passed immunity laws shielding people who call 911 to get help from charges. Now, the people who made those calls to save a life are not only not protected, they have been charged with murder. Do you think that will make people more or less likely to seek help in the case of an accidental overdose? Over-charging these people will cause more people to die.

Anger and bitterness are both natural and understandable emotions when someone dies senselessly from a drug overdose. It is natural to want revenge, or to make someone pay for a loved one's death. But that should not be the basis for our public policy. Our policy should instead be decided based on what will be the most effective at eliminating a problem, and what will be proportionate when bad things are done. Murder charges are not proportionate.

We need to treat drug abuse as a public health problem, not as a literal war complete with military equipment including armored Mine Resistant, Ambush Protected (MRAP) military vehicles better suited for dealing with terrorists in Iraq or Afghanistan than drug users. Treating drug abuse as a literal war has been a self-fulfilling prophecy and has empowered hyperviolent cartels. We need to move beyond the failed policies of the past.