America’s Futile War on Drugs

by Mark Harvey

Sometimes our American ideas about social problems and how to fix them are downright medieval, ineffective, and harmful. And even when our methods are ineffective and harmful, we are likely to stick to them if there is some moralistic taint to the issue. We are the children of Puritans, those refugees who came to America in the 17th century to escape King Charles.

To say Puritans had strong beliefs is as understated as saying Genghis Khan enjoyed a little pillaging and conquering out on the Asian steppes. The Puritans were believers like no believers before them. And in general, they weren’t a lot of fun. As if religious services aren’t serious enough, the Puritans eliminated choral music and musical instruments from their churches because those touches were a little too much like the papistry of the Catholic Church. Puritans in Massachusetts even banned Christmas for a spell as they thought the holiday had a pagan origin and therefore embraced idolatry.

The journalist H.L. Menken put it well when he said, “Puritanism is the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.”

So when you forge a nation with some strong puritan roots along with some marvelous practicality, such as the United States, sometimes you get pretty mixed up results. The prime example is our colossally counter-productive “War on Drugs,” now 50 years in the works. Read more »

Halting the Drug Overdose Crisis: A Doctor’s Prescription

by Carol A Westbrook

“Take two aspirin and call me in the morning” has been replaced by “Here’s a bottle of oxycodone. Don’t call me for a month.”

Two million Americans are addicted or dependent on opioid drugs. Last year, 72,000 of them died of overdoses, usually by accidentally taking too high a dose of an illicit drug. What has caught our attention is that these deaths are not the down-and-out, indigent drug addicts sprawled in dirty crack houses that are pictured on TV crime shows. They are our friends and family, teenagers and adults who unwittingly became addicted to medication that was legitimately prescribed to them by doctors.

Drug overdose deaths are rapidly increasing, as is apparent from the chart below, and are now the leading cause of deaths in adults under age 50. The cause of this epidemic is not drug pushers, or dirty needles, but the health care industry itself. It is the result of a series of well-meaning but misguided policy changes that appeared over the last twenty years that physicians such as myself were asked to implement in caring for patients with pain. Let me explain. Read more »