Is US drug policy responsible for spike in heroin use?

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This month our Congress and the president enacted legislation targeting the growing national heroin and opioid epidemic. This legislation is in response to the steady increase in heroin deaths since 2011 that presently has resulted in a four fold increase over the last five years as reported by the National Institute of Health and the Center for Disease Control. This is after very little fluctuation from 2001 to 2011.

The action of our politicians reminds me of a line in Jerry B. Harvey’s book “How Come Every Time I Get Stabbed in the Back, My Fingerprints are on the Knife” Does signing this law echo Harvey’s assertion that we “…divert attention from our complicity in contributing to major organizational problems.”

{mosads}The UN 2014 drug report reflects that “According to the United States, in 2012, the availability of heroin continued to increase in that country, likely due to high levels of heroin production in Mexico and Mexican traffickers expanding into “white heroin” markets. Some metropolitan areas in the United States experienced an increase in heroin overdose deaths.” And “In the United States, the shift in the opioid market towards heroin is also evidenced by high availability and lower prices of heroin.”

Have the policies of our government contributed to the “high availability and lower prices of heroin?”

In testimony before the US Senate Committee on Armed Services on March 13, 2014, Marine General John F. Kelly, Commander, US Southern Command, stated: “Last year, we had to cancel more than 200 very effective engagement activities in numerous multilateral exercises. Because of asset shortfalls, we’re unable to get after 74 percent of suspected maritime drug trafficking. I simply sit and watch it go by. And, because of service cuts, I don’t expect to get any immediate relief, in terms of assets to work within this region of the world.”

According to the March 2014 “National Drug Control Budget: FY 2015 Funding Highlights,” the budget request for interdiction efforts, which include intercepting and ultimately disrupting shipments of illegal drugs and their precursors, as well as the proceeds, totals approximately $3.9 billion in FY 2015, a decrease of $184.8 million (4.6 percent) from the FY 2014 level.”

{mosads}In their June 2014 article “Wave of Central American migrants strains Border Patrol, reducing number of drug busts” in the Washington Post, Joshua Partlow and Nick Miroff report border agents comments that the wave of illegal immigrants, with government promises of relaxed enforcement of immigration laws, is consuming law enforcement’s attention. This diversion away from interdicting the flow of drugs is being exploited by the cartels to move ever more drugs across the border.

The diminished emphasis to control our borders has significantly contributed to the flow of illegal narcotics across our borders. These drugs have become readily available and created an environment which provides more and cheaper heroin for the drug traffickers to prey upon and peddle to our youth.

Have we also increased the number of traffickers who continue to hawk their increased volume of cheaper heroin to our children while telegraphing to the traffickers that they can expect softer sentencing?

On Aug, 3, 2016, the USA Today article “[President Barack] Obama issues record-breaking 214 commutations” reported that these 214 commutations brought 562 the number of prisoners granted leniency by this administration. But on August 30, another further 111 sentences of drug traffickers were commuted for a total of 673, with the promise of more to come. The article further states that most of these granted clemency were low level drug offenders. Federal narcotic law enforcement assets are directed against traffickers not the lower level users most often dealt with by state and local law enforcement. So are there almost 700 more “low level drug” traffickers on the street, with promises of more to come, pushing ever more heroin to our children?

Benjamin Weiser relates in his Aug 7, 2016 New York Times article, “Trial by Jury, a hollowed American Right, is Vanishing,” the case of an accused narco – terrorist who, faced with a 20 year minimum sentence, plead guilty to a lesser charge and received 57 months in prison. He further reports that the trial rate in federal courts has declined from over 5 percent in 1997 (3,200 of 63,000 federal defendants) to about 2 percent in 2015 (1,650 out of 81,000). How have this plea bargaining for reduced sentences affected the ability to keep drug traffickers off the streets? Has this resulted in more traffickers on the streets pedaling an ever larger volume of drug products in recent years to our children and as the UN report says: “high availability and lower prices of heroin?”

In “Criminal Justice Through the Ages”, as translated by John Fosberry, he reprints from “Penal law as a Phenomenon of the History of Ideas” by Professor Dr. Wolfgang Schild that “The prime object of the execution of punishment is to remedy defective socialization of the offender and to lay down for him the foundation (vocation, but also the mental attitude) for living a non-criminal life.”

The Bluejacket’s Manual of the United States Navy states: “What is being taught in a system of discipline is the controlling of an individual’s actions, impulses, or emotions.”

Have the government’s pardons and plea bargains compromised the “foundation for living a non-criminal life?” How have these also weakened “…controlling of an individual’s actions, impulses and emotions” to traffic in drugs?

Jerry Harvey also tells us that “…CYA becomes one of the only shared goals around which members of the organization organize their efforts.” Are our elected officials engaged in, either knowingly or unconsciously, “Cover Your Ass” by enacting this legislation targeting the growing national heroin and opioid epidemic? Is this organized around the shared Bipartisan goals of “CYA” with evidence that they may be diverting “… attention from [the government’s] complicity in contributing to major organizational problems,” the heroin epidemic? Are the government’s fingerprints on the heroin knife which is sticking out of this nation’s back? Will continued policies of open borders and commuting the sentences of drug traffickers by the next president result in even more of our children ending up in the autopsy room?

DeMaggio is a special agent in charge (ret), Captain, U.S. Navy (ret). The above is the opinion of the author and is not meant to reflect the opinion of the U.S. Navy or the U.S. government.


The views expressed by Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.



Tags Addiction Border Border Patrol border security cartels Congress Drug policy Heroin Immigration Marines Navy Opioids President Barack Obama
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