"Once somebody takes heroin they are addicted for life," Austin PD Sgt. Richard Burns said.Yeah? Well once drug warriors resort to unfounded scare tactics to spook the public, they're discredited for life.
The news hook for the story is that heroin deaths have shot up in Austin, doubling from 2003 to 2004, according to a mysterious source not named in the story. Police rhetoric focuses on going after "low level dealers," but in reality they're scourging petty drug users, in a big way:
There are days when I can only sadly agree with my conservative friends about Austin's big-government politicos. Too many liberals like District Attorney Ronnie Earle never met a fly they couldn't swat with a sledgehammer. Let's face it -- if this poor schmuck was only in possession of less than a gram of smack, he's not much of a drug dealer. How many people could he be dealing to if he's only possessing that amount?
[Austin District Judge Jon] Wisser has seen it in his courtroom. Take the punishment prosecutors are asking for in one case in which a man is charged with less than a gram of heroin.
"In this case, the district attorney wanted six years in prison, and the reason they gave me is they had a wave of overdoses of heroin, and they were going to start cracking down on people who are dealing," Wisser said.
Six year sentences for overblown possession cases won't solve the heroin addiction of a small number of hard core users. And if addicts think the authorities are going to crack down hard on them, there's no rational incentive for those individuals to seek help.
Senator Jon Lindsay, R-Houston has a smarter proposal that would save money and possibly addicts lives, without all the big government trappings. He wants to allow local government to implement syringe exchange programs that would give addicts access to clean needles and basic medical care, as well as referrals to drug treatment and other assistance. Junkies are very hard for social workers to reach, and needle exchange gives them a chance to interact that they wouldn't otherwise have.
Not only does needle exchange connect addicts to drug treatment, it prevents the spread of Hepatitis C and HIV-AIDS, which in turn reduces local emergency room and Medicaid costs.
Dead addicts don't recover. But Sgt. Burns is a fool or a liar to say people can't. Addicts can turn their lives around given a chance. Instead, in Austin we seem to just want to sweep them out of the way, and pretend they won't come back when they get out of prison.
By contrast, APD Commander Harold Piatt told the Daily Texan in October that unregulated dosages and inexperienced users were the main cause of the spate of heroin overdoses:
That's a more honest assessment than Sgt. Burns'. Prohibition and the Media made the same point: "The way to reduce heroin overdoses and poisonings is to move the trade into a legal, regulated environment in which users can know what they are getting." Needle exchange won't do that (and neither will the Texas Legislature), but allowing local governments to implement syringe-swap programs would give a starting point to pursue smarter solutions.
And speaking of smart, announcing on television that anyone who tries heroin is hooked for life is embarassingly dumb. APD clearly needs to send Sgt. Burns to a media training. Or perhaps to a podiatrist -- would that be to whom one would go to remove a foot from one's mouth?