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“End Prohibition Now!”


a 30 minute talk

Jack A. Cole[*]

Note: Click on the [SLIDEnn] links to display the presentation slides related to this talk

[SLIDE1] I represent LEAP (law enforcement against prohibition) an international nonprofit educational organization that was created to give voice to all the current and former members of law enforcement who believe the war on drugs is a failed policy and who wish to support alternative policies that will lower the incidence of death, disease, crime and addiction.

The first thing I need to tell you good people is that the US policy of a “war on drugs” has been, is, and forever will be, a total and abject failure. This is not a war on drugs, this is a war on people—our own people—our children, our parents, ourselves.

After three decades of fueling the war with over half a trillion tax dollars and increasingly punitive policies, illicit drugs are easier to get, cheaper, and more potent than they were 30 years ago when I first started buying heroin. While our court system is choked with ever-increasing drug prosecutions our quadrupled prison population has made building prisons this nation's fastest growing industry, with 2.2 million incarcerated and another 1.6 million arrested every year—more per capita than any country in the world. Meanwhile drug barons continue to grow richer than ever before and our citizens continue dying on our streets.

[SLIDE2] I joined the New Jersey State Police in 1964 and six years later joined their narcotic bureau. I started working in narcotics with the beginning of the “war on drugs,” a term first coined by Richard Millhouse Nixon when he was running for president in 1968 on a platform of getting tough on crime. After elected to office he got Congress to pass a bill giving federal funding to any police department willing to fight his war on drugs. Overnight the NJSP, like police departments across the nation, went from a seven-man narcotic unit to a seventy-six-person narcotic bureau. All paid for by our federal tax dollars.

In 1970 we really didn’t have much of a problem with drugs. In order to make things look worse than they were so our bosses could keep the federal cash‑cow in our barnyard: we lied about most of our statistics; upgraded arrested drug-users to drug-dealers; and inflated the weights, as well as the street values of the seized drugs, when we released information to the media. Three years into the war, we finally started arresting some mid-level dealers, such as, the members of “The Breed” Motorcycle Gang who were selling methamphetamine out of the Philadelphia area.

In 1977, seven years into the drug war, I kicked a door down in the Corona section of Queens, New York and seized around 350 thousand dollars and what was touted by the newspapers as “the largest shipment of Mexican brown heroin ever seized,” up to that point in time—nineteen pounds (more about this later). By 1979, the “drug problem” had expanded to the point that I was working on International Billion-Dollar cocaine and heroin rings.

During my first three years of working undercover, my perception of what the drug war was about changed because of what I saw and experienced while working the street. I learned firsthand of the family destroying consequences of sending drug users (often mothers and fathers) to jail. I can’t think of a better policy for creating the next generation of drug addicts than to remove parents from children. I also realized that when police arrested a robber or rapist they made the community safer for everyone but when I arrested a drug pusher, I simply created a job opening for someone in a long line of people willing to take his place. I finally came to understand that the small amount of good I might have been accomplishing for the government could never outweigh the harm I was causing countless people.

[SLIDE3] When I started buying heroin in 1970 we bought “tre-bags” so called because they cost three dollars per bag. An addicted person needed two of those bags to get high because at that time the purity of the product was only about 1.5 percent. However, after ten years of “drug war,” the purity had more than doubled and the cost to get high had dipped to $3.90. After thirty years of “drug war” the price to “get off” on heroin had plummeted to 80 cents because the quality of heroin had increased by 20 times its original level—now registering over 38 percent pure in street buys.[1] And we wonder why so many people are overdosing on drugs today? Addicts don’t consume more and more drugs until their bodies can no longer take the poison, they overdose because they get what is, in the trade, called a “Hot-Shot.” One day the drug dealer, for whatever reason, doesn’t correctly mix the nearly pure heroin he bought with the powder he is using to dilute the drug before reselling it. On that day some of his clients are going to be really mad because they get the part that contains much more cut and they think the dealer tried to beat them out of their money, but another group of his clients will get the part of the mix that contains mostly pure heroin—when they cook up the powder they think is 10 percent pure and it is really 60 or 70 percent pure they aren’t angry they are dead. That is why we are hearing of more and more cases where 5, 10, even 20 people overdose in the same town on the same day.

[SLIDE4] The worse the problem gets the more police and money we throw into the mix. The Federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), created in 1973, had tripled its staff by 2001 but its budget had increased by 20 times, from $75 million the first year to $1.55 Billion in 2001. [SLIDE5] “Lock them up,” screamed the drug-warriors and lock them up we did—tripling our yearly arrest figures over the last twenty years—with fully half of those arrests for marijuana violations.

And what have we accomplished with all our hard work and monetary investment. Remember that I mentioned the newspapers reported for a week our seizing the largest shipment of brown heroin ever taken in the United States, up to that point in 1977. It occurred in the Corona section of Queens, New York. Nineteen pounds of heroin and we were in the newspapers for a week. [SLIDE6] On the screen you see a photograph I cut out of the New York Times Newspaper in 1994. There was no accompanying article, just the picture. The caption relates, “police and federal authorities recovered 4,800 pounds of cocaine, with an estimated street value of $350 million…in the Corona section of Queens.” Nearly two and a half tons of cocaine and it didn’t even rate an article. Why not? Because by 1994 police were regularly seizing tons of not just cocaine but heroin. [SLIDE7] So much so, that the New York Times took to just summarizing the multi-ton shipments in single articles. Like this one from July 15, 1994: “Three tons of cocaine hidden in cargo at the Port of Newark; Five tons of Cocaine in Houston; Three tons in San Francisco; Five more tons in El Paso—and all in a two month period.[2]

[SLIDE8] And how has the war on drugs aided our school children? Drug Czar John Walters would have you believe we are winning this war. He points to a 2002 study, “Monitoring the Future,”[3] and says, “This survey confirms that our drug-prevention efforts are working….”[4] The truth is that study shows that [SLIDE9] between 1991 and 2002 marijuana use among students in all school grades increased—[SLIDE10] 30 percent increase for twelfth graders; [SLIDE11] 65 percent increase for tenth graders; and [SLIDE12] 88—did he say, “88” percent increase for eighth graders. How can this study show our drug prevention efforts are working?

[SLIDE13] According to another 2002 national government study, school children report it is easier to buy illegal drugs than it is to buy beer and cigarettes.[5] How can that be? The answer is really not very complicated; no drug dealer is going to worry about checking your child’s birth certificate to see if he or she is old enough to buy drugs. When I first worked undercover I was hanging out with about 20 kids in front of a bowling alley at a strip-mall. These kids, none of whom were 21 years old could, and did, sell me any kind of illegal drugs you can name but they used to come up to me and say, “Hey, Jack, we’re thirsty—will you go into the liquor store and buy us some beer? They could get all the illegal drugs they wanted but couldn’t buy beer.

[SLIDE14] So, how much money are we talking about here? Enough money to bribe a cop, to bribe a judge, to bribe a politician, to bribe a banker—ladies and gentlemen we are talking about enough money to buy whole countries—over 400 billion dollars each year is spent on drugs—eight percent of the world’s gross product, about the same size as the international textile industry.[6]

So what do we do to stop the death, disease, crime and addiction wrought by drug use? The current policies are obviously failing because as I said at the start of this talk, drugs are cheaper, more potent and easier to get now than they were thirty years ago, when I started buying heroin on the street.

Is there anything that can be done to stop this scourge on our nation and the world? I think so. I believe we can change the direction of these horrible circumstances and began to rollback the incidence of death, disease, crime, and addiction. The first thing we must do is admit that most of the death, disease, crime, and addiction, is not caused by drug use but by drug prohibition. [SLIDE15] Then we can stop the horrors associated with the prohibition of drugs by removing the profit motive from the drug culture.

How do we do that—simple—[SLIDE16] we end drug prohibition! We legalize drugs! [SLIDE17] “Ah…but won’t legalization cause everyone to use drugs?” I hear you saying. The answer is NO! If we just look around the world, we have many fine examples of policies we could try that show us drug use will not increase. In Holland were drugs are virtually legal because the police look the other way unless the user is causing some other kind of trouble; where you can go in a coffee shop if you are an adult and order from a menu that offers a choice of six brands of marijuana and six brands of hashish—you can purchase five grams and smoke it there or put in a doggy-bag and carry it out. There a survey of tenth graders shows that 28 percent have tried marijuana. In the United States, we will not only arrest and try to incarcerate your children for using marijuana but we will take away their driver’s licenses hampering their ability to get to school and causing them to loose their jobs. If they live in government subsidized housing, we will throw their whole family out of their home. And when the child finally gets free from the lockup or probation or parole and wants to go back to school to better him or herself we tell them they can never in their lifetime get a federal educational grant or loan. In this country 41 percent of tenth graders have used marijuana.[7] Again, I hear you saying, “How can that be? Twenty-eight percent where marijuana is virtually legal and 41 percent where marijuana is treated like the devil’s own weed. Well, when asked about it, a chief constable in Amsterdam said, “We have just managed to make pot boring.”

[SLIDE18] So what are the outcomes of drug legalization?

[SLIDE20] According to the 1998 Federal Household Survey:

[SLIDE21] According to U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics

[SLIDE22] Step 2 would be to have the government produce the drugs and control them for [SLIDE23] quality, consistence, and potency. This would virtually end overdoses.

[SLIDE24] Step 3, the one that actually removes the profit motive, distribute free maintenance doses of drugs to any adult requesting them.

This sounds radical but it isn’t. We are currently giving free drugs to addicted people enrolled in the methadone programs. Can giving free drugs to drug addicted people help end those addictions? The answer again, is yes! [SLIDE25] In both Switzerland and Holland where heroin addicted people are treated by giving them heroin, the authorities have made wonderful progress in doing just that. [SLIDE26] Among those treated: fulltime employment more than doubled; unemployment was cut in half; crime was slashed by 60 percent; cocaine use among addicts plummeted from 35  to 5 percent; unstable housing situations dropped by nearly two-thirds; homelessness fell from 12 percent to zero; and drug-caused deaths dropped 34 percent between the years of 2001 and 2002.[10]

 [SLIDE27] What are the outcomes of free governmental distribution?

  1. No profit motive for drug distribution
  2. No individuals selling drugs
  3. No crimes committed to obtain drugs
  4. No criminal association for drug users
  5. No diseases passed by sharing needles
  6. Users able to stabilize their addictions and ask for help
  7. [SLIDE28] No shootings of dealers by other dealers
  8. No kids caught in crossfires
  9. No police killed fighting drug war
  10. No one killed by police in the drug war
  11. No advertisement to further drug use
  12. Nobody soliciting one more drug user


[SLIDE29] The fourth step is to take that 69 billion dollars we save each year and redirect it to programs that offer hope for the future. Over the 35 years I have worked in this field I have found that addicted people tend to have one thing in common—they have nearly no hope for the future. Give them hope and the vast majority will leave their addictions behind them.

[SLIDE30] Hope comes in the guise of available rehabilitation centers that offer a way out of the addictions. Two-thirds of those asking for help can’t find it because we are spending so much money locking them up we don’t have any left to help them end their addictions.

[SLIDE31] Hope can also rise on the wings of guaranteed minimums. Minimums for: Housing; Health Care; Education; Job Training; Employment; Livable Wages. [SLIDE32] Give drug users hope and they have less need to use drugs—less need to use drugs—less drug addicts.

[SLIDE33] The last half of step four is to redirect another part of those saved billions to programs that offer true education about drugs. I’m not talking about the failed policy of teaching D.A.R.E.[11] but real programs that tell the truth about drugs. Does drug education work? You bet it does! Again, we have a perfect example of a policy that did work: [SLIDE34] In 1965, 41.9 percent of the US population smoked tobacco—after a drug education policy in the early 1990s aimed at lowering tobacco use—by 1998 only 24 percent of the US population smoked tobacco [SLIDE35] (a drug that kills five million each year throughout the world and over 450,000 in the US).

Perhaps we should listen to some of our great thinkers expound on US drug policy. [SLIDE36] Albert Einstein had this to say about prohibition:

The prestige of government has undoubtedly been lowered considerably by the Prohibition law. For nothing is more destructive of respect for the government and the law of the land than passing laws which cannot be enforced. It is an open secret that the dangerous increase of crime in this country is closely connected with this.”[12]                               Albert Einstein, 1921

That was in 1921 and Einstein was talking about alcohol prohibition. There is little difference between alcohol prohibition and drug prohibition but what difference existed was better under alcohol prohibition. For instance with alcohol prohibition we didn’t arrest users, only sellers and distributors. The drive to arrest drug-users came with the Reagan Administration. So now we have a policy that says we have to arrest our children in order to save them.

I say, “When will we ever learn?—SAVE OUR CHILDREN—STAMP OUT PROHIBITION!”[13]


Baum, Dan. Smoke and Mirrors: The War on Drugs and the Politics of Failure. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 1996.

Beck, Allen J., Ph.D. and Christopher J. Mumola. US Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics. Prisoners in 1998. (Washington DC: US Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, August 1999).

Brown, Justice Henry Billings. "Majority opinion in Plessy v. Ferguson," Desegregation and the Supreme Court , ed. Benjamin Munn Ziegler (Boston: D.C. Heath and Company, 1958) 50-51.

Levin, David J., Patrick A. Langan and Jodi M. Brown. US Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics. State Court Sentencing of Convicted Felons, 1996. (Washington DC: US Department of Justice, February 2000).

Lusane, Clarence Pipe Dream Blues: Racism & the War on Drugs, Boston: South End Press, 1991

McCoy, Alfred W. The politics of heroin:  CIA complicity in the global drug trade, New York:  Lawrenceville books, 1991.

Miller, Richard Lawrence. Drug Warriors and Their Prey:  From Police Power to Police State. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 1996.

National Household Survey on Drug Abuse: Summary Report 1998. (Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 1999).

Prisoners and Jail Inmates at Midyear 1999. Bureau of Justice Statistics. (Washington DC: US Department of Justice, April 2000).

Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics 1998 Bureau of Justice Statistics, (Washington DC: US Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, August 1999)

Summary of Findings from the 1999 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse. (Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, August 2000).

Trebach, Arnold S. "Can Prohibition Be Enforced in Washington?" The Truth Seeker, Sept/Oct 1989.

[*] Executive Director, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), jackacole@leap.cc

[1] DEA Chart indicates the cost to the user (Price) of getting high on heroin and the purity of the substance purchased (Purity) listed by year from 1980 through 1999.

According to a United Nations report, "US authorities reported the mean purity level of heroin to be around 6% in 1987 but about 37% in 1997, in which year levels were even reaching 60% in New York."

Source: United Nations Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention, Global Illicit Drug Trends 1999 (New York, NY: UNODCCP, 1999), p. 86.

With inflation, every other product has risen in price over the last 30 years but that is not so for illegal hard drugs. According to the economic law of supply and demand when a market becomes saturated with a given product the price of that product will drop as a direct correlation to the over supply.

According to a United Nations report, "Over the past decade, inflation-adjusted prices in Western Europe fell by 45% for cocaine and 60% for heroin. Comparative falls in the United States were about 50% for cocaine and 70% for heroin."

Source: United Nations Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention, Global Illicit Drug Trends 1999 (New York, NY: UNODCCP, 1999), p. 86.

[2] 3 Arrested in Smuggling Cocaine Found in Newark Cargo

By JOSEPH B. TREASTER, New York Times, July 15, 1994, B3

On Tuesday night, Francisco Delgado parked his Lincoln Town Car at 29th Street and Broadway in Manhattan, and began walking away.

But before he had gotten more than a block, United States Customs Service agents grabbed him.

The agents had been following Mr. Delgado, 48, from a warehouse in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn where they said they had watched him and another man, Alberto Heraldo, 30, load more than 200 pounds of cocaine into the trunk of the Lincoln in three cardboard boxes.

 The cocaine, Federal officials said, was the first to be moved to the streets from a record shipment of more than three tons of the drug that the Customs Service said yesterday that it had discovered hidden in cargo at the Port of Newark in early May. Customs agents said they had been watching the cocaine day and night until the arrest of Mr. Delgado, Mr. Heraldo and another man.

Native Colombians

Shortly after leaving the Brooklyn warehouse, the authorities said, Mr. Delgado dropped off Mr. Heraldo. And within a few minutes the agents arrested Mr. Heraldo and a third man, Augusto Vargas, 36. All three are natives of Colombia.

It was the largest cocaine seizure ever in New Jersey, the officials said and the fourth big haul of cocaine to be captured by Federal agents in the last two months.  Federal agents recovered five tons of cocaine in Houston in May, three tons in San Francisco in June and five more tons in El Paso last week.

Federal agents in New Jersey said there clearly seemed to be a surge in cocaine imports, which according to Drug Enforcement Administration figures, had dropped 25 percent from 1992 to 1993, when the total was 128,374 pounds.

But Thomas A. Constantine, head of the Drug Enforcement Administration in Washington, said he did not believe the latest seizures suggested a change in the way the Colombian traffickers were operating.

"To our knowledge there is nothing to indicate a sudden decision to move a major amount of cocaine in a short period of time," he said.

Rather, he said, the recovery of so much cocaine in such a short period was probably a coincidence -- or, as he put it, "a convergence of information and investigations."

Focusing on Drug Chiefs

He said one reason for the fall in cocaine seizures from 1992 to 1993 was that the agency has been: focusing on catching the leaders of drug organizations and putting less effort into capturing shipments of the drug. The theory, agency officials say, is that arresting the leaders will have a more crippling effect on the drug organizations. But, so far, there has apparently been no reduction in the amount of cocaine that is available on the streets of New York and other cities in the country.

Customs officials said the largest previous seizure of cocaine in New Jersey was 6,116 pounds found nearly three years ago hidden in hollowed-out bars of aluminum stacked in a ship’s cargo. The cocaine in the latest case, 6,600 pounds had been concealed in a shipment of roofing material.

David J. Ripa, the senior Customs agent in Newark, said the latest shipment came from Venezuela, as did the cocaine in the aluminum bars and several other big loads.

Mr. Ripa and other Federal officials said that in the last year or so most of the cocaine that has been intercepted en route to metropolitan New York has been in trucks and other vehicles coming from Florida and along the Mexican border. Smuggling by ship to the New York market he said, appeared to have dropped off.

Robert E. Van Etten, the senior Customs agent in New York City, said agents searched the cargo of roofing material after something in the shipping documents raised suspicions. He would not elaborate.

After discovering the drugs, agents watched the cargo containers as they were moved to storage lots and warehouses in New Jersey and Brooklyn hoping to arrest the top organizers of the operation eventually rather than merely drivers. The agents said it was not clear how important Mr. Delgado and the two others were in the operation. But they said they believed they had to begin making arrests when it looked as though the cocaine was about to be distributed.

[3] Source: Monitoring the Future, a survey of eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders done for the United States Department of Health and Human Services. Monitoring the Future is an ongoing study of the behaviors, attitudes, and values of American secondary school students, college students, and young adults. Each year, a total of some 50,000 8th, 10th and 12th grade students are surveyed (12th graders since 1975, and 8th and 10th graders since 1991.) In addition, annual follow-up questionnaires are mailed to a sample of each graduating class for a number of years after their initial participation. This 2002 annual survey was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and tracked illicit drug use and attitudes among 44,000 students from 394 schools. http://www.monitoringthefuture.org/data/02data.html

[4] Source: “Drug use on decline for U.S. teens,” Associated Press, Washington, December 16, 2002.



by Michael Kranish, Globe Staff, August 21, 2002 , A2, Boston Globe (MA)

WASHINGTON - The percentage of students between ages 12 and 17 who perceive that their schools are "drug free" has nearly doubled in the last four years to 63 percent, even though students said for the first time that it is easier to get marijuana than cigarettes or beer, according a private national survey released yesterday.

Like many drug surveys, the one by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University was filled with good and bad news. On the positive side, the director of the study speculated that an information campaign linking drug dealers with terrorists has made drug use less appealing after the Sept. 11 attacks and, as a result, that has improved students' perceptions of their schools as drug free. But officials said the study is disturbing because marijuana continues to be easily available, even though marijuana use may have slightly declined.

In one example, teenagers said marijuana is easier to buy than cigarettes or beer. Twenty-seven percent of those surveyed said they could acquire marijuana in an hour or less. It was the first time since the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse began its annual survey in 1996 that marijuana was said to be easier to acquire than cigarettes or beer.

Thirty-four percent of those surveyed said it was easiest to obtain marijuana, compared to 31 percent who said cigarettes and 14 percent who said beer.

One-fourth of those surveyed said they had tried marijuana. Separately, a federal study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 47 percent of teenagers have smoked marijuana by the time they leave high school.

The most heartening finding for anti drug advocates was the conclusion that 63 percent of those surveyed believe they attend drug-free schools. Four years ago, 31 percent of those surveyed said their schools were drug free.

The report did not say why the number of drug-free schools has increased so dramatically, but it said students at drug-free schools were twice as likely to report seeing a student using or selling illegal drugs.

Joseph Califano, who oversaw the study as president of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, said the new perception may stem from a combination of increased educational campaigns and a changed national attitude following the Sept. 11 attacks.

"Most kids buy drugs from classmates, and this issue of being `unpatriotic' or `helping terrorists' may be cooling off the classmate drug sellers," Califano said. "They [drug dealers] may just not be as acceptable since Sept. 11. And parents may be more engaged in kids' lives since Sept. 11. I'm speculating. We really don't know for sure, but it is probably some of all of those things."

Glen Hanson, acting director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a federal agency, said it is not clear whether students perceive a school to be "drug free" only because there are signs proclaiming drug-free zones. But he said it is clear that increased education about the dangers of drug abuse has had an effect.

While lauding the improvements, Hanson cautioned that marijuana is still very easy to get at many schools.

"Because one person says, `My school is drug free,' that probably doesn't mean there never has been a marijuana cigarette smoked on the playground," Hanson said.

Since access to beer and cigarettes is restricted at the retail stage, Hanson said, youths have significant hurdles to obtaining them.

"As far as marijuana is concerned, there is not any control there," he said. "If you want it, you can get it. That is not good news."

The survey was based on a telephone poll of 1,000 students conducted from December 2001 to February 2002. It had a margin of error of 3.1 percent.

Michael Kranish can be reached at kranish@globe.com.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Copyright (c) 2002 Globe Newspaper Company
Record Number: 0208210201

[6] The international illicit drug business generates as much as $400 billion in trade annually according to the United Nations International Drug Control Program. That amounts to 8% of all international trade and is comparable to the annual turnover in textiles.

Source: United Nations Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention, Economic and Social Consequences of Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking (New York, NY: UNODCCP, 1998), p. 3.

[7] Source: Roger Van Bakel, “End the Drug War Now!” Maxim Magazine, February 2002, pp120-126.

[8] Source: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, National Household Survey on Drug Abuse: Summary Report 1998 (Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 1999), p. 13.

[9] Sources: US Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics 1998 (Washington DC: US Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, August 1999), p. 343, Table 4.10, p. 435, Table 5.48, and p. 505, Table 6.52;

Beck, Allen J., Ph.D. and Mumola, Christopher J., US Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Prisoners in 1998 (Washington DC: US Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, August 1999), p. 10, Table 16.

[10] Heroin Fight Needs New Approach

By Tom Condon, Hartford Courant, November 10, 2002

As might have been predicted, state and local police are busting drug addicts and dealers left and right in Willimantic. A sting operation last weekend netted 29 arrests. The state's pouring more money and more cops in, following The Courant's series on the local heroin problem.

Can I have a show of hands, everyone who thinks this will do any good?

Dare to dream. Three decades, billions of dollars, prison populations at an all-time high, and the drug problem is as bad as it ever was. That should drive a rational country to try something else.

So. Let's say we explore the idea that drug addiction is more a public health problem than a crime. Then instead of sending in the cops, we'd send in medical people.

The local addicts could go to a local clinic. Those who could sustain themselves on methadone or another synthetic opiate would be given it, along with assistance in education, job training or housing. Those who still needed heroin would be given heroin.

A heroin maintenance program may sound a little jarring, but let's do a cost-benefit analysis.

On the plus side, such a program would greatly improve the health and

employment capability of the participants, while bringing about a corresponding decrease in their levels of homelessness, welfare and unemployment. It would cause a steep decrease in crime, and save lives that otherwise would be lost to overdoses, bad drugs or botched crimes.

On the negative side, it might, what, send the wrong message?

This shouldn't be a hard call. Two Yale University scientists, Robert Heimer and Kaveh Khoshnood, who've studied heroin maintenance programs in Switzerland and Holland, say the results there justify a pilot program here.

Heimer, an infectious disease specialist who teaches in the schools of medicine and public health, said by the mid-90s the Swiss had 65 to 70 percent of their heroin addicts on methadone (as opposed to 15 to 20 percent of U.S. heroin addicts). But the rest of the Swiss addicts were doing what addicts do, hanging out, hurting themselves and causing trouble.

So, the thought went, what if we give them the drug they actually want, in a controlled setting? They asked themselves if it was ethical, and determined that it was.

The results for more than 1,000 participants, measured after the first year, were remarkable. The physical and mental health of the participants improved markedly. Full-time employment rose from 14 to 32 percent, while unemployment dropped from 44 to 22 percent. A third of the addicts left the welfare rolls.

Crime - both the number of people committing crimes and the number of crimes - dropped 60 percent. Income from illegal or semi-legal activity dropped from 69 percent to 10 percent. Cocaine use among the addicts dropped from 35 to 5 percent. Those in unstable housing situations dropped from 49 to 21 percent, while homelessness dropped from 12 percent to none.

"The Swiss were so satisfied that it stopped being a trial and became public policy," Heimer said. The Dutch results, released earlier this year, were strikingly similar.

In the first four years of the Swiss program, not a single person died of a drug overdose. In Connecticut in the four years from 1998 - 2001, 241 deaths ruled accidental or suicidal were connected to opiates, 156 of them to heroin, Heimer said.

Heimer and Khoshnood are part of a team of U.S. and Canadian scientists who have spent six years preparing a pilot program to be used in this country and Canada. The Canadians expect to move ahead next year with trials in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal.

The team expects to apply to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for permission to run a pilot program. If that is forthcoming, then they'll have to find a clinical provider willing to take the risk.

Heimer said they've gotten interest from some clinics in the state, but they'd need the go-ahead from state officials, probably Gov. John Rowland. Rowland talked about drug treatment in the campaign. Would he "send the wrong message" by approving a heroin maintenance trial?

I don't think so. To take drugs off the street and put them in a clinic is to take both the profit and the illicit romance out of them. It would show addiction for what it is, a self-inflicted medical condition. We once understood this. In the early part of the past century, New Haven had clinics for morphine addicts, and gave them morphine, said Khoshnood, an epidemiologist in the school of public health.

If we medicalized the drug problem, and did it right, there would be hope of ending the urban drug crisis. Or, we can continue to build jails.

Copyright 2002, Hartford Courant

[11] “The Education Issue,” ReconsiDer Quarterly, Winter 2001-2002, Vol 1, Num 4, Syracuse, NY: ReconsiDer: Forum on Drug Policy, 2002, pp.30.

[12] Source: Einstein, Albert. Ideas and Opinions (based on Mein Weltbild, edited By Carl Seelig, and other sources) New translations and revisions by Sonja Bargmann, New York: Crown Publishers, 1982. p. 6. From My First Impressions of the USA (an interview for Nieuwe Rotterdamshe Courant, 1921; The interview appeared in Berliner Patageblatt on July 7, 1921.

[13] Picture of members of the Women's Organization for National Prohibition Reform pose for a photograph in 1932 (courtesy of the Hagly Museum and Library, Wilmington, Delaware). We are having to re-learn the same lesson today that they learned 71 years ago.

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