Weekly News Comment #4

The United States is suffering from a major opioid epidemic, and as pointed out by Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin, the “Lock ’em up and throw away the key” strategy that has been used in the past is not a viable solution.

A recent Vox article highlighted the Governor’s stance, that he voiced in February, and points out recent legislation he has signed that increases the punishment on opioid related crimes. The bill, HB 333, “increased penalties for trafficking heroin below 2 grams to five to 10 years in prison, up from one to five years.

The article then goes on to point out that this is not uncommon for American politicians. Despite the cliché response to the crisis, that the problem can’t be solved simply through mass arrests, lawmakers have reverted back to the old strategies of increasing punishments for those involved in the drug trade, both users and sellers.

At least 16 states have recently passed “tough on crime” laws, imposing new or tougher penalties on opioid use and trafficking, and lengthening prison sentences for those who sold or shared drugs that resulted in a fatal overdose.

Though this approach is made with the intention of decreasing opioid use and subsequently decreasing the number of deaths associated with overdoses, is that research shows this approach to the problem doesn’t work.

The most simple and obvious reason for this is that these drug war policies have been in place for decades, and the current opioid epidemic has occurred despite their enforcement. In addition, since the 80s the price of heroin per gram has dropped by more than 85%, while the number of drug dealers behind bars has increased by a factor of 30, according to drug policy expert Mark Kleiman.

Despite the best efforts of police departments and lawmakers to combat the drug epidemic, their strategy is wrong. As the statistics and expert opinions in the Vox article show, arresting more users and dealers does little to stop the epidemic itself, and only serves to ruin the lives of its victims with excessive sentences and criminal records.

1 Comment so far

  1.   fuglsang on September 18th, 2017

    A good thoughtful reaction, NIck. I’m not sure what to think of Vox reporting. While it seems credible, and generally evenhanded, the style of this story didn’t work for me. When the writer uses “I” and “me,” I automatically question his credibility. The story itself may be accurate and fair, but the style doesn’t support it.