Author Gathering Place

Tracy Ryan

We can fix ‘ice’ problem
with managed addiction

During my recent campaign for governor, I asked audiences what their priorities were on drug policy. The question was: "Which is more important to you; keeping drug addicts from getting their hands on drugs, or keeping them from getting their hands on your property?" It should be clear that if we could limit our drug-related problems to the health issues incident to addiction, the result would be a great improvement in the current situation of high property crime rates, high taxes to pay for arresting and incarcerating addicts and, despite blips up and down in drug use during the past few decades, no real end in sight.

In a managed-addiction model, addicts register with the government for the legal right to use drugs. In Hawaii, this might be handled through the Department of Health, which could manufacture and provide heroin, cocaine and methamphetamines in predictably pure doses to people already addicted. The cost of the distribution would be borne by the addicts.

Since the actual cost of producing these drugs is a tiny fraction of the street prices addicts now pay, the motivation driving them to steal would be removed. Police report that as many as 90 percent of the thefts in Hawaii are caused by addicts stealing to get the money they need to buy street drugs. If this is true, the community could expect a sharp drop in these crimes when addicts no longer felt compelled to steal.

These results have been seen in Switzerland and elsewhere using these models. You and I would no longer be victims of someone else's drug problems.

Managed addiction separates the addict from the illegal drug trade, destroying its profitability. The problems posed by recreational drug use and the likelihood that more people will become addicted can be better addressed when addicts are in a program than when they are out sharing drugs with all sorts of people. It is not a foolproof program. It doesn't claim to cure people of their addictions. It merely does what is possible in terms of relieving the rest of us from having to share in the addicts' problems by being the victims of their crimes and the source of the tax money squandered trying to catch and punish them.

Most addicts, though still using drugs, would see an improvement in their health and ability to function. The drugs to be used would not be mixed with dangerous fillers, as many street drugs are today. This would reduce trips to emergency rooms and deaths due to overdosing. The amount of time addicts now spend hustling up the money they need for a fix and then trying to get connected with a dealer could be redirected into constructive activities.

Putting addicts into regular contact with qualified Department of Health personnel would increase the likelihood that they would hear about treatment options or engage in healthy drug substitution. That's where less harmful drugs are used that increase daily functioning while alleviating withdrawal cravings. Some addicts might use maintenance drugs such as methadone during the work week and get "high" only at home on the weekends. A family with an addicted member would be happy knowing they could trust that member again instead of worrying that they are being lied to and robbed by a self-destructive addict.

The problems with managed-addiction models are political. Members of the law enforcement community will fight like tigers to keep their budgets from being cut. Those seeing drug use as a moral absolute that can never be tolerated regardless of the harm done to the rest of us by their drug wars, will fight managed addiction.

Government leaders will resist it for three reasons:

>> Because they are afraid of the political consequences of tolerating any drug use (no guts),

>> Because they believe the law enforcement model really does do a better job than managed addiction (no brains),

>> Because they don't like a system where drug users aren't punished for engaging in behavior that is offensive to them (no heart).

Put them all together and you get to the essential problem that Hawaii faces with elected officials: no leadership.

Tracy A. Ryan ran for governor as a Libertarian in 2002.


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