Regarding the May 6 story, "South Jersey losing war against heroin":
The response of local authorities is to ramp up enforcement and take measures to increase the penalties for possession of the drug. I believe this is absolutely the wrong approach to the problem.
Since President Richard Nixon declared a war on drugs in 1971, the United States has spent about $1 trillion fighting the use of illicit substances. By all accounts, that "war" has been a total failure. More than a half-million Americans are currently incarcerated for drug possession and distribution, yet the substances are as widely available as ever. The World Health Organization recently reported that the United States has the world's highest rates of marijuana and cocaine use.
The story mentioned several cases of area residents who died of drug overdoses, and that loss of life is indeed tragic. But compare that to tobacco, which is completely legal. The Centers for Disease Control estimate that 443,000 Americans die every year from smoking, 49,000 of them from being exposed to other people's smoke. But where is the equivalent war on tobacco?
Vancouver physician Dr. Gabor Mate, who spent a dozen years treating hard-core addicts in that city's Downtown Eastside, has said that his patients invariably suffered severe childhood trauma. They take drugs in order to kill the constant emotional pain. Mate said that to incarcerate someone for using drugs is essentially to punish them for having been abused as a child.
The time has come to end the war on drugs. Marijuana should be legalized, so that legitimate businesses and the government, rather than criminal enterprises, reap the financial benefits. Cocaine and heroin use should be allowed under a doctor's supervision.
The tremendous amount of money this country spends on law enforcement and incarceration would be much better used for prevention, treatment and rehabilitation of those who use drugs to dull the pain of a traumatic past.