Sunday, May 28, 2006

Deadly Heroin Mixture with Fentanyl -- New York Times gets the story

Fentanyl overdose deaths were noticed in Detroit beginning last September -- totaling about 100 deaths, but it didn't become a "crisis" until recently when two dozen deaths were counted in a recent week, the New York Times publishes an Associated Press story. 20 deaths in Philadelphia, and 30 deaths in Chicago from September to March, and another 23 "suspected" since then.

I wrote about this on May 10, picking up on Donna Leinwand's USA Today story on May 4.

The Times says, officials say if you overdose you should go to an emergency room.

Why does this response sound utterly inadequate and indifferent?
Because it is. Would editorialists at the nation's leading newspapers observe these deaths and make any suggestions to the nation's public health authorities, or lawmakers?

We remain confused -- is this a criminal justice problem or a public health problem?

Let's imagine for a moment that corporate CEOs, ordinary "housewives," school children, football players, truck drivers -- any group that is not defined primarily by their illegality -- were being poisoned in the same numbers by some adulterant in their environment. What kind of response would there be? Politicians would propose moving heaven and hell to "fix" the problem.

And what could fix this problem? Licensing the lawful distributors of heroin, making sure that those who range from heroin "addicts" to casual experimenters with heroin can get the best heroin that can be made.

Douglas Husak in Legalize This! argues that it is unjust to punish a person in order to dissuade them from using a drug for recreational purposes (i.e. non-medical). If he is correct, and I think he is, then for a society and a government to insist upon a policy that it knows exposes a person to an increased risk of death, when a vast structure of regulation and inspection is in place that could save them, borders on the immoral (recognizing the drug user must bear some responsibility for the decisions he or she makes).

What should the drug legalization community or the harm reduction community do in the way of moral witness and protest of the societal indifference that is leading to these deaths?

Is there a racial disparity among those who are dying?

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