Heroin use has been a primary target of the War of Drugs since its inception in 1971.  A fair question to ask — How has the War on Drugs impacted heroin use?

The short answer is that the heroin problem is the worst it has ever been and by any standard other than counting people arrested, our heroin policy is a complete failure.  Ronald Reagan famously noted that “Facts are stubborn things.”  Here are a few facts about our heroin problem.

  • Drug overdose deaths (primarily heroin) have now eclipsed auto accidents as the leading cause of death in Ohio.
  • The purity or strength of street heroin is at an all-time high.  Prohibition advocates like to say “This is not your father’s heroin,” and suggest we need more punitive measures.
  • The street price of heroin has dropped and authorities link much of the current heroin problem to people switching from costly prescription pain medication to heroin as a cheaper alternative.
  • A recent news story focused on the growing problem of dirty needles left in public places, creating risks for sanitation workers, first responders and every citizen in the area.

Lost in the welter of statistics is the human side of this policy blunder.  I currently teach in a Police Academy in Clermont County, Ohio.  There are 23 recruits in the class and we are three months into the program.  Last night, one of the recruits advised her brother had died the previous week of a heroin overdose.  She was the third recruit since the start of the academy to have a family member die of a heroin overdose.  In this brief time period, we’ve not had a family member lost to cancer, heart disease, accidents, diabetes or any other cause.

Generally, in our personal lives as well as in the public policy area, when something is not working, we change direction.  There is not an easy solution to the current heroin epidemic but the 40 history of our current approach is a failure.

It is time to change direction.