Pubdate: Fri, 22 May 2015
Source: Baltimore Sun (MD)
Copyright: 2015 The Baltimore Sun Company
Author: Dan K. Morhaim
Note: Dan K. Morhaim is a physician and a member of the Maryland 
House of Delegates, representing District 11 in Baltimore County.


As rightly concerned and upset as we are about the fatal injuries 
Freddie Gray suffered in police custody, we ought to be just as 
concerned about the body count that existed prior to his death and 
has been on the rise ever since (there have been roughly three dozen 
homicides in Baltimore since Gray died, not counting the many 
wounded). We have come to accept daily community violence as 
background noise. What's going on, and what can be done? Sadly, every 
city and region has well-established lines of distribution of illegal 
drugs and narcotics. Addicts need their drugs once or several times a 
day, and there's a global network established to satisfy that 
craving. It starts overseas, where opium and cocaine are processed 
and then sent to virtually every community and street corner in the 
U.S. The billions of dollars spent to buy drugs are funneled back to 
the drug cartels via financial mechanisms that would rival a Wall 
Street investment bank.

When those distribution lines are disrupted - in our case by the 
Baltimore riots - drug distribution chaos ensues. Prices rise, 
tempers flare, deals go sour, and shootings increase.

It also explains why rioters targeted certain stores and products. 
They entered drugstores, not to get antacids or toothpaste, but to 
get narcotics. They also aimed for high-value, small, non-traceable 
items suitable for easy resale, like tennis shoes, jackets and 
liquor. A $150 pair of sneakers can be fenced for $50 to $75, a 
leather jacket retailing at $200 might fetch $100 on the street, and 
a bottle of alcohol might bring 50 percent of retail.

This is what happened after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. In the 
wake of supply disruption, addicts attacked hospitals and pharmacies 
to get narcotics, sedatives and tranquilizers, anything to get high 
or to ward off the symptoms of withdrawal.

The spike in crime tells us something else: We cannot police 
ourselves out of this mess. Law enforcement and the criminal justice 
system have roles to play, but they are insufficient. Even with 
hundreds of police and thousands of National Guardsmen on the street 
and with the nation's focus on Baltimore, the crime wave began. And 
it's continuing now with a vengeance.

Estimates are that there are tens of thousands of addicts in the 
Baltimore metropolitan area. Given that each one might need $10 to 
$100 every day to maintain his or her habit, it's easy see just how 
deep this problem runs.

All this is a result of the war on drugs, now 50 years old. It's a 
war that has claimed tens of thousands of casualties both at home and 
abroad, destroyed the lives of countless innocent bystanders, turned 
neighborhoods - and in some cases, whole regions - into killing 
fields, filled prisons to overflowing with nonviolent offenders, 
poisoned farmlands and forests, undermined police and government 
agencies, corrupted multinational banks and financial companies, 
funded overseas enemies and terrorists, and despite the tremendous 
cost in blood and treasure has not advanced the cause for which the 
war was declared. Drug use has not measurably declined since 
President Nixon started that war in 1970.

Not only has the war on drugs failed, it continues to make the 
situation worse. It's turned into a war on people, communities, 
institutions and ultimately ourselves. A new strategy is needed.

We need to treat drug addiction and substance abuse as diseases like 
we do with alcoholism. We need to take the profit out of the illegal 
drug markets. We need to confront the underlying circumstances that 
make drugs so appealing to so many. We need to look at approaches 
taken in other countries like Portugal and Switzerland, where 
alternative strategies have reduced drug use and dangerous behaviors, 
and modify those to our unique circumstances.

And perhaps most importantly, we need to engage physicians and 
nurses, public health experts, law enforcement, scientists, addiction 
counselors, addicts, all levels of government, researchers, 
educators, and anyone and everyone who can contribute in a civil, 
thoughtful and unemotional discussion with the goal of developing and 
implementing a drug control strategy that is based on science and not 
on politics. This could even positively affect police behavior in 
cities with predominantly black communities by restoring a more 
positive role for officers.

Drug use will never be completely eradicated, but that doesn't mean 
we should throw up our hands and do nothing. We need to get back to 
what should have been the goal of the war on drugs all along: a 
society where drug abuse is as rare and as manageable as we can make 
it. That is a goal worthy of our nation's energy and resources and 
one that is within our reach if we choose to focus our serious 
attention on it. Baltimore's recovery will never happen unless we 
address this issue.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom