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Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Overdosing and Supply

Massachusetts is having a crisis in overdoses from opiates, particularly heroin.  It is getting so bad, they want to put overdose kits on ambulances in an attempt to help save lives-

I am definitely all for this idea.  Saving lives should be a priority.

But, the reason I posted this article is something that caught my eye, buried within the article:

With a bag of heroin cheaper than a pack a cigarettes or most six-packs of beer, and prescribed opiates available more in the community, Ms. Bartlett said the state is experiencing a spike in elicit drug use. As a result, there has been a lot discussion on what it would take to make Narcan more readily available in the state. 

This should give the forces of drug legalization something to think about.  Access is related to death from overdose.

Aside from the obvious logic that one cannot overdose on something one cannot access to begin with, the general principle follows that the cheaper a substance becomes, the more people will access.  For example, there are many people who want to raise the price of gasoline in the US in order to get us to stop driving as much.

We tax alcohol and cigarettes also with a preventative eye.  The higher the price, the less 'casual' users will get involved.  A high school student isn't going to try a drug he can't afford (unless he steals it).

Once legalization takes place, already low drug prices will drop further because part of the cost of a drug is for all those layers of 'security' and losses due to law enforcement.  Every time a dealer or a transporter gets busted with his stash, there's a loss that the next sale will have to cover. 

So, the supply will increase.  But, the question is, will the quality improve?  You see, the other side of legalization is that it does not control the quality of the product. Illicit drugs like meth and heroin are not regulated for quality and potency, let alone basic sanitation, and so the addict is taking a risk every time he uses.

That's what the overdose problem is about: addicts underestimate the strength of their drugs.  

So, to save lives, are we going to merely try to resuscitate overdosers, or should we regulate the purity of their drugs?  Suddenly, the government becomes involved in enabling.  I think we can all agree that if the government starts helping out addicts in this way, and drugs become 'safer,' we will see an increase in exposure and probably an increase in addiction as well.

Let's face it: most of us know that heroin feels really good... and that scares us enough to not try it.  What if the perceived risks were taken away?  Suddenly, the restraints of danger would be removed, and many of us would be more inclined to try it.  After all, a good feeling without a significant 'down side'... what could be more enticing?

So long as there is an unregulated supply, there will be deaths.  However, the cost of regulation would be the state enabling addicts in their addiction.  I'll have more on this in the next post, in which I will decipher a remark made by Gov. Jerry Brown of California as to why he (an admitted former pot user) is against legalization.

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