Pubdate: Mon, 07 Sep 2015
Source: Capital, The (MD)
Copyright: 2015, Capital Gazette Communications, Inc.
Author: William Cooke
Note: William Cooke of Annapolis is an assistant public defender in 
Anne Arundel County and a member of the Law Enforcement Against 
Prohibition. Contact him at  or, for more 
information on LEAP, visit


Instead of arresting street level dealers, Maryland should focus on 
treating heroin addiction Recently The Capital reported on the arrest 
of 25 people in Annapolis for selling heroin. Our political leaders 
celebrated this as a significant victory in the drug war.

Yet we have seen countless headlines about drug busts in the 40-plus 
years since Richard Nixon declared the war on drugs, and the drug 
trade continues unabated. Does anyone believe the recent arrests will 
accomplish anything, beyond saddling the arrestees with convictions 
that will haunt them the rest of their lives? As long as there is a 
demand for the drugs, the trade will continue.

Years ago I worked as a prosecutor in Baltimore City. Our courts were 
clogged with drug offenders. Many were people with addictions who 
were arrested for possession. Many of the people charged with 
distribution were addicted and selling to support their habits.

The police were great at rounding up people and throwing them in 
jail. As a result, many lost their jobs and homes. The consequences 
in court varied, but the people with addictions were certainly more 
impacted than the illicit trade, which continued uninterrupted.

Of course, there is no doubt we have a heroin problem. County 
Executive Steve Schuh commissioned a report on the issue. Our state's 
attorney, the mayor and the police chief of Annapolis all served on 
the county executive's task force.

In their report, they noted that the rise in use could be traced to 
different factors, "including a decrease in the availability of 
prescription opiate medications because of increased prescriber 
oversight and law enforcement efforts ... low cost, availability and 
ease of use." In regard to the first factor, the state created the 
issue by forcing people with pain management or addiction problems 
onto the illicit market.

Undercover Annapolis police operation nets two dozen heroin 
indictments The fact that heroin continues to be plentiful after 
decades of prohibition speaks volumes about the impotence of the 
government to address the problem. The recent arrests will not turn 
the tide of the drug war in the government's favor.

All the arrests in the world will not end the heroin crisis. As Gov. 
Larry Hogan said, we cannot arrest our way out of this problem.

Instead of spending resources busting low-level dealers, many of whom 
are likely users, the state should focus on helping people with 
addictions, most of whom would prefer better lives. Many achieve 
success with opioid replacement therapies, such as methadone.

To its credit, the county supplies methadone and also has funds 
available for other treatment programs. But these programs do not go 
far enough. Studies have proven that heroin maintenance programs, 
usually used for people who have failed at other types of treatment, 
have been very successful.

For example, the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network released a study on 
these programs in 2006. The study found the programs have resulted in 
"helping people to stop or reduce their illegal drug use, avoiding 
illness and death as a result of overdose ... reducing crime related 
to the acquisition of drugs, reducing the number or visibility of 
drug markets ... lowering costs associated with health care, social 
welfare, criminal justice and prisons."

Prohibition has been destructive to this nation. Financially, it 
costs us dearly. It has destroyed countless lives. While making big 
arrests may make people feel better, history tells us that it will 
not improve the situation. The drug war should be ended. Drugs ought 
to be regulated in such a way as to limit abuse, while recognizing 
that we will never fully stop destructive behavior. Part of life 
involves risk and the possibility that people will make bad decisions.

Drug abuse is bad and will continue to be a problem. But the drug war 
is worse. It has turned communities into centers of crime. It has 
destroyed lives. It has turned people with addictions into criminals.

It has overrun our courts. And it has been an incessant drain on 
taxpayers. We must find a better way.
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