The New Prohibition

I’ve been reading articles in the Boston Globe about the massive increase in overdoses almost every day. Then I found myself reading an article about the giant influx of fentanyl, with machines to convert it into pills identical to pharmaceuticals from China. Everybody used to blame Mexico; everybody blames prescription pills that are diverted; everyone blames the people with the illness of addiction.

I find it very sad that Prohibition has reared its head again, this time in the form of opiates, not alcohol. As a retired substance use disorder counselor who spent 30 years addicted to heroin, I know that this situation will not go away any time soon. It seems to have grown exponentially over the years since I started using heroin in 1962. Yes, I’m 70 years old and lucky to be here.

The horror of people dying before their time is caused by the powerful illness of addiction, which was unfortunately criminalized by Harry Anslinger after Prohibition was repealed. Anslinger inherited a powerful agency and decided to use that agency to criminalize drugs. Since then, many people have been hurt by the actions of powerful people with similar misguided notions.

The people who use drugs are not going away any time soon. As long as there’s a massive money-making potential in selling drugs, drug dealers aren’t going away either. I’m not talking about the small-time dealers who sell drugs to cover the costs of their own habits. I’m talking about the corporate machine that sells drugs for profit. And the poor neighborhoods to which people from the suburbs flock to in order to cop—well, we all know that story. I lived it.

Addiction needs to be medically treated, not criminalized. That means—yes, I’m going to say the word—legalization with controls. That’s the solution that will help our loved ones who are sick with this illness stay alive. In some places like northwest Canada, they actually have places where people go to shoot up under medical supervision. The operation is called InSite, and it currently serves 600 people a day.

In Vancouver, there’s a place called Crosstown Clinic where people with substance use disorder go, not only to shoot up under medical supervision but to purchase the narcotic in a pharmaceutically measured dose. Crosstown Clinic has approximately 110 participants in its program.

Programs like this exist in Britain, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland. It appears that the United States is behind the treatment curve when it comes to opiate addiction.

Even during the Vietnam era, heroin poured into the United States, interred with the bodies of the brave men who gave their lives fighting a terrible war. People of power were behind that operation because there was big money in it. Some say the CIA was involved—but for me, that’s just hearsay. Some powerful people were involved though.

Instead of talking about the sorrow of all this, it’s time for our compassion to make a change in the law and in the way we react to addiction. We need to take big money out of selling drugs and control the purity of the drug by legalizing it. When I go to a pharmacy, I know that what I’m getting is what it says on the prescription. It’s the actual dose. This isn’t true of drugs sold by greedy mobs from Mexico, China, South America and the United States; they don’t care if the dose is a little off. But that tiny variation in dose can determine whether someone gets high or dies.

I don’t know what else to say. I’m glad I survived to tell the tale. I still have the illness but it’s being treated by professionals trained in the field of addiction. All addicts, even drug counselors who have the disease, need to have ongoing treatment. I know.

I’m not only a drug counselor; I’m a client.

Marc D. Goldfinger is a member of the board of directors of the Homeless Empowerment Project, which publishes Spare Change news. Formerly homeless, he serves as the paper's poetry editor.

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