Why Not Legalize All Drugs?

Pharmacy Times, December 2016 Heart Health, Volume 82, Issue 12

We are undoubtedly in the midst of one of the most devastating drug abuse eras the United States has ever seen. Heroin by itself or, more likely, laced with fentanyl or carfentanil, along with pharmaceutical opioids, is causing thousands of overdoses across our country each year.

We are undoubtedly in the midst of one of the most devastating drug abuse eras the United States has ever seen. Heroin by itself or, more likely, laced with fentanyl or carfentanil, along with pharmaceutical opioids, is causing thousands of overdoses across our country each year. Nasal naloxone has saved an incredible number of these overdose victims.

When drug problems intensify, the cry goes out that we have lost the war on drugs and our best way out to stop all of the death and destruction is to legalize drugs and let the government reap the profits in the form of taxes. It sounds simple: legalize all drugs, the prices will drop, the associated killing and violence will go away, and we will all live happily ever after. We can use the increase in tax revenues to build highways and roads or to fund other important projects.

However, let us look at what has happened in Colorado, which legalized the seemingly benign drug marijuana. For the complete 2016 report on the legalization of marijuana in Colorado, visit the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area website (rmhidta.org).

According to the report, marijuana-related traf- fic deaths increased by 48% (2013-2015), whereas overall traffic deaths in the same time period only increased 11%. In 2009, marijuana-related traffic deaths involving operators who tested positive for marijuana represented 10% of all traffic fatalities. By 2015, it had doubled to 21%.

Adult past-month marijuana use increased 63% in the 2-year average (2013-2014) after Colorado legalized recreational marijuana compared with the 2-year average prior to legalization (2011-2012). Colorado adult past-month marijuana use for 2013-2014 was 104% higher than the national average compared with 51% higher in 2011-2012. From 2011 to 2014, the number of hospitalizations related to marijuana nearly doubled, from 6305 to 11,439, in Colorado.

So, what would our country be like if all drugs were made legal and open to purchase by all individuals older than 18 years? The incredible increase in collaborative damage from the legalization of marijuana in Colorado could be a clue.

I contend that a significant number of individuals in the United States has a propensity for addiction. A portion of them abuse substances, become addicted,and deal with it the best they can. The other portion prone to addiction does not experiment with drugs due to workplace drug tests or concern for being arrested and unable to secure good employment in the future. When drugs are legalized, a portion of the latter group no longer sees a downside to abusing formerly illegal drugs and soon becomes seriously addicted to one or more substances. Naloxone may save their lives multiple times, but there is no question they will need appropriate rehabilitation if it is available in their community.

Legalization of drugs could result in an overwhelming need for rehabilitation centers, which could be catastrophic to our economy, even without considering the human damage in terms of lives lost and endless addiction issues. In addition, the doors would be open for individuals older than 18 years to abuse heroin, fentanyl, crystal methamphetamine, and pharmaceuticals. There would be no reason to control opioids, benzodiazepines, stimulants, or any other pharmaceuticals if drugs such as heroin were readily available. Where would that put pharmacists? Maybe physicians would recommend drugs, and patients would purchase what they want, rather than what they need.

Does this seem absurd? Probably, to some extent, but it’s not inconceivable if we were to legalize all drugs. Surely, we would regulate them to protect juveniles, such as we have with alcohol and tobacco, right? The answer can be found in Colorado, where youth, past-month marijuana use for 2013-2014 was 74% higher than the national average compared with 39% higher in 2011-2012.

On the surface, legalizing drugs seems like a way to end all our suffering related to illegal drugs. However, I contend that legalization would drastically increase the number of addicts in this country, causing immeasurable financial burdens and unimaginable human devastation. Take the time to read the full Colorado report, and remember it pertains only to marijuana, which many individuals consider harmless.

Cmdr Burke is a 48-year veteran of law enforcement, having retired from the Cincinnati Police Department and the Warren County Drug Task Force. He is past president of the National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators, current president of the International Health Facility Diversion Association (ihfda.org), and owner of Pharmaceutical Diversion Education Inc. He can be reached by e-mail at burke@rxdiversion.com.