Wednesday, February 5, 2014

What happened to Phillip Seymour Hoffman could not happen in the UK.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman died as much from America's drug laws and the country's approach to drug addiction as he died from the drug itself. And never let anyone tell you anything different.  And to prove the point, what happened to Hoffman never could have happened in the UK.

 The U.S. policy towards drugs in general and heroin addiction in particular is to punish addicts with long prison sentences while at the same time elevating heroin dealers to the ranks of the super rich. More plainly,  its been a preposterous failure on every level, legally, morally, medically and societally. It has never worked and in fact has created more addicts and a bigger market for drug dealers,  but the always fearful  politician who would privately acknowledge U.S.drug policy has never worked have in the past always refused to support what would.

 What happened to Hoffman and thousands if not tens of thousands of heroin addicts who die from overdoes every year would never have happened in Great Britain because unlike the insane drug policies of the U.S. that solves nothing,  Great Britain has had a drug program in place and drug laws regarding heroin that first, actually benefits the overwhelming majority of people who do not take drugs and secondly the addicts who do.

 It started with a pilot program that began in 2005 with heroin addicts that did not respond to other treatments like methadone. Registering them as certified heroin addicts and then, at government run clinics and under clinical supervision,  administering to each addict doses of enough pure heroin, not to send them to the Sea of Tranquility but to keep them stable and prevent them from going through withdrawal proved to be a resounding success.

 The results were so spectacular the program was gradually increased in 2007-8, with equally spectacular results until it was finally rolled out nationally in 2012.

 And what were these spectacular results? Most of those who participated in the pilot programs in those years first and foremost stopped committing crimes to pay for their habit because they no longer had to. The UK estimated that two-thirds of all street crime was attributable heroin addiction.  And so the heroin addicts in the program who no longer had to commit crimes to pay for their addiction stopped committing them. Of the almost 2000 admitted crimes committed by the 150 addicts in the original 2005 pilot program, the crimes they committed dropped by two-thirds to 547.  And that was just in the beginning.

 These addicts also reduced their expenditures on street drugs by two-thirds.  And again,  this was just in the original pilot program in 2005.The clinical trials in 2007 was even better and showed that drug use among heroin addicts in the pilot programs dropped from using heroin on a daily basis to about 4 times a month. The amount of heroin being administered was not for recreation or to cope with daily problems. Just enough to keep them stable and not having to fight withdrawal symptoms. By 2010 the success of the program was not in doubt.

 Since then, the results of  providing heroin addicts with what they need to stay stable under clinical supervision and without resorting to having to buy it on the street have proved so spectacularly successful the program was  rolled out  nationally in the UK in 2012 by King's College in London.

 The program has not only significantly reduced street crime, but because these addicts are registered and monitored closely, there are statistics that show most of them now have jobs and in fact their employment rate is higher than the national average. Which means they are also paying taxes.  It has also put heroin dealers in the UK out of business and driven them out of the country. And for obvious reasons. Heroin dealers are not in the business of creating new customers for the government where addicts can get it for free.

 The benefits on every level speak for themselves.  Heroin addicts are no longer committing crimes to get their heroin. Heroin addicts have reduced their consumption dramatically. Heroin dealers no longer have a market in Great Britain. And society as a whole,  the great majority who do not use drugs, are safer as a result of the significant drop in crime. On top of that all the money that had gone for interdiction and law enforcement can now be used for other more productive programs.

 The cost of the drug  to the British taxpayer?  Approximately $150 a year per addict. That's about what it costs to provide a heroin addict with the doses they need to stay stable. The costs involving the maintaing of the clinics and staff make overall costs higher but still a pittance next to what's spent on law enforcement. And when its factored in that these addicts are now working in legitimate jobs and are paying taxes the program pays for itself many times over. Compare that to the $40 billion and more a year in tax payer money the U.S. spends to interdict what amounts to about 5% of the drugs smuggled into the U.S. every year. Add to that the cost of police, judicial resources,  the cost of putting these addicts in prison and keeping them there and then the human cost given what people are driven to do to pay for their drugs. And those who don't take drugs who pay as victims of crime.

 No one disputes that for their own health and well being, what is most beneficial for heroin addicts is getting them off the drug entirely and the UK program gives addicts every opportunity to do so if they wish.  It's their choice.  But by legally administering a drug that is dirt cheap when purchased legally by clinics, to addicts who are beyond their own ability to quit, the program not only helps addicts at the very least, climb out of the deep holes they've created for themselves, give them some dignity and allows them to live productive lives,  it has also  stopped the crime these addicts were committing and made society a safer place.  It's also allowed resources that had been spent treating heroin addiction as a law enforcement problem to be spent  elsewhere.

 While the U.S. policy has always been to punish and try to use brute force to eliminate the problem which has been and always will be, a failure,   the UK policy has  not only has been humane for the addict by recognizing heroin addiction as a health problem not a law enforcement problem, but  the benefits to society as a whole, the people who don't take drugs, is actually more pronounced in the reduction of crime and the ability to reallocate those resources somewhere else, than its been for the addict. Similar programs have been successful in Germany and Denmark.

 Instead of moralizing about addiction and punishing those who have succumbed while making dealers super rich, these programs first get the addicts under control and then gives the addicts enough of what they need to keep them from committing crimes and letting them become productive members of society. And has put heroin dealers out of business.

 More importantly, there are no Phillip Seymour Hoffman's or anyone like him in Great Britain. And as their program continues to roll out, there is every reason to believe that  when the last heroin addict dies in Great Britain, by natural or other causes, the heroin problem there will die with them.


Alessandro Machi said...

The Social Media aspect still has to be considered. Mr. Hoffman, having apparently recently broken up with girlfriend, probably wanted privacy.

Nowadays that is hard to do. Going out sends off rumors he maybe didn't want out there (Hoffman seen with new girl, ex sees that and uses it as an excuse to date others). Hiring a prostitute can also become social media fodder.

In your scenario, what if social media gets wind that Mr. Hoffman is in this program and he gets accused of publicizing the taking of heroin at taxpayer expense?

Asked another way, what celebrities in England are on this heroin program at taxpayer's expense?

Marc Rubin said...

"In your scenario, what if social media gets wind that Mr. Hoffman is in this program and he gets accused of publicizing the taking of heroin at taxpayer expense?

Asked another way, what celebrities in England are on this heroin program at taxpayer's expense?"

To answer your second question first, I have no idea. To answer your first question, that is part of the whole point isnt it? In the UK heroin addiction is treated as a disease, a health issue not a crime or moral terpitude (though some may see it that way but that's their own opinion). And because the clinics are the only way to obtain the heroin legally instead of having to slink around in alleys the way Hoffman and other addicts have had to, it would hardly make sense for anyone to accuse a celebrity of "mooching" at taxpayers expense if that was the only way they could legally get it. And if there was a similar program here it could be based on ability to pay. When legal the drug is cheaper than dirt. Either that or we could enjoy the spectacle of having Obamacare requirw that insurance companies cover it. Wonder what Hobby Lobby and the Republicans would do with that one. But the point is, it works, works spectacularly and nothing else has.

Anonymous said...

It's so unfortunate that there is no hope of instituting such a program in the U.S. Obama is so clueless that he thinks congress must act to reschedule medical marijuana when he can do it, himself. The Senate is at risk of losing its Democratic majority. A fundamentalist in Michigan is pushing to have homosexuals purged from the Republican party because their representatives of Satan or some such ridiculous reason.

I'm encouraging my kids to leave this country before they become in need of care for serious medical conditions and aren't eligible to immigrate. Here, we have people claiming to deserve most of the resources because they work harder, and Bill Gates telling the L.A. Times that things are better than they've ever been.

it's depressing.

Marc Rubin said...

"Obama is so clueless that he thinks congress must act to reschedule medical marijuana when he can do it".

Obama came into office with the biggest congressional majority of any president in 60 years. He couldve gotten almost anything passed. Instead he sold out healthcare reform to the health insurance lobby in Washington by caving in to their pressure to drop the public option which, as a government run healthcare plan, could have unilaterally approved these treatments for addicts.Instead Obama sold out, an electorate angry at Democrats for selling it out, wiped them out of congress and they still havent learned their lesson.

The problem is so called progressives cave in to Obama the way he caves in to almost any oppositon. Even though this treatment is the most common sense and effective approach, Obama is at heart a run of the mill garden variety politician who holds his finger to the wind on everything. Democrats would have a lot better chance if they publicly disagreed with his half hearted policies especially with healthcare and promised a public option in spite of Obama and dare him to veto it. Then doctors would decide an addicts treatment not law enforcement.

The drug problem, the crime it causes and the influx of illegal drugs could all be stoppd almost over night if addicts were treated with the drugs legally at clinics. And the country would support it. But most politicans dont have the courage to even bring it up despite its proven success in solving the drug problem and everything assoicated with it. It would actually be a pretty easy sell and they still cant do it.