The following column is the opinion and analysis of the writer.
In her excellent article titled “Pima County attorney, public defender spar over prosecutions of drug users”, the Star’s Caitlin Schmidt reported on two approaches to addressing the increasing rate of drug abuse in Pima County. In it, Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall argues for the importance of the law enforcement role, while Joel Feinman advocates a public health approach. They are both wrong.
According to the 2017 Pima County Medical Examiner’s annual report regarding deaths from overdose, there were 282 deaths, 89% of which are considered accidental. Methamphetamine and heroin claimed the highest number of deaths, 90 and 72 respectively, followed by the thirty-somethings including morphine, fentanyl, cocaine, benzodiazepines and alcohol.
Were you surprised to see alcohol? We usually do not think of alcohol in those terms. It has been a part of Western culture for hundreds if not thousands of years. It is something with which, as a society, we seem to have made peace.
That is not to say that we did not go through our Prohibition phase, as we are now going through our drug prohibition phase. In the early part of the 20th Century, bans began to appear at the state and county level culminating in the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution banning production, distribution, and sales of alcohol nationwide. The ban lasted from 1920 to 1933.
Prohibition was a huge failure. As it is today with illicit drugs, there was a large market with a huge demand that was satisfied by criminal enterprises that either illegally imported or illegally produced the product.
Since we are much farther along in our dealing with alcohol than illicit drugs, is there anything we can learn from alcohol and apply to the drug “epidemic”? I think there is.
First, learn from Prohibition. Stop with th bans already. There is a market that will not be denied. The production, distribution and sale should be regulated like alcohol.
But what about all those drug related deaths, and those who suffer from addiction? Alcohol, again, provides an answer.
I have a Tucson friend who is an alcoholic and has been sober for over a decade. He agreed to speak with me on condition of anonymity. I asked him how he got sober. “I went through a treatment center where I became established in AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) and continued attending AA meetings after I left,” he said. Who do you credit with curing you? “I’m not cured. I’m still an alcoholic, but I’m not driven by my alcoholism. I don’t have to drink today because of AA. Any honest treatment center will tell you that they treat your physical health and get you established in AA. That’s it.”
AA is focused on alcohol only. Narcotics Anonymous focuses on recovery from drug use.
It is no surprise to me that AA began in this country. It is just one example of a couple of regular guys who found a solution that works for so many. This is the founding culture of our nation — free people within a community with shared knowledge and experience helping each other.
We seem to be backsliding into appealing first to government to fix us, whether under the banner of law enforcement or the rubric of public health, as if some program cooked up by an Ivy League suit — who is smarter than you are! — will cure your opioid addiction, stop you from taking fentanyl, or make you turn down the drink.
America’s strength is in her people — regular people who share knowledge and experience and can truly help each other on a personal level.
As it was with alcohol, this is where inroads into the drug problem will be made.