The heartbreak of 50,000 dead is everywhere
By Robert Charles
No one wants to read about drug addiction, abuse, overdose numbers and young death. Why should they? Why should anyone who is steady, healthy and cogent enough to be combing a newspaper, or scanning news on their iPhone care much about someone who — all the world assumes — lost their own future, made avoidable mistakes? Not my lane. Not my worry. Not my world, right? Wrong.
When the tide comes in, it takes all. Especially when it comes by storm. And this storm, my fellow Americans, is upon us. If you’re not touched by addiction yourself, you soon will be. Society is being confronted by an unprecedented wave of events. Marijuana legalization, far from harmless as advertised, is producing a wave of new drug dependence. Nor is that black dog easy to shake. Then, add the related opiate epidemic. The Centers for Disease Control just reported 50,000 more dead Americans in 2016 (most young), on top of the 50,000 dead in 2015.
Do not want to read further? It’s other people’s kids. It’s up to someone else. It’s not in my town. Beware the draw of denial. The latest numbers suggest Americans have grown indifferent, uncoupled from the reality of drug abuse at their elbows. The liberal, and frankly unconscionable, appeal to indulge in abuse of narcotics as “recreation” is where rational minds should part company. The result is a spike in emergency room incidents, fatal drug overdoses (which often involve opiates, but often start with marijuana), drugged driving (escalating nationwide), reported domestic abuse (always tied to substance abuse), and drug related crimes.
On the crime side, numbers are eye-popping. Tracking marijuana use by state, more crimes are being committed on the drug. Downstream effects of dependence bleed into heroin and other opiates. These now overlap clearly with rising homicide rates. Chicago and Baltimore are Exhibits 1 and 2, but hundreds of American cities, and now many towns, feel the impact. States where non-doctor voters have chosen to raise tax revenue by encouraging drug abuse — are making their own populations sicker, care costlier, and citizens less accountable to each other. Did you miss that?
Crimes committed on drugs are also rising. They are multiples higher than crimes committed to support a drug habit, themselves rising. Any surprise? Not to law enforcement, prevention, treatment and mental health experts. Drug crime numbers follow drug addiction, which flows from wider drug abuse at all ages, which follows legalization of addictive drugs. No rocket science. Just rational understanding of human weakness, addictive potencies, and what happens when Federal law is left unenforced, and State laws are overturned on whim.
Much of this goes to State and National leaders. While the mountain of data continues to grow, officials shrug. State-level officials embrace a Faustian deal for near-term tax revenues, in the process throwing over laws that protect their own people. The deal is, of course, illusory. Drug use rises when permitted (and endorsed), as do addiction costs, and personal and property crime. Law enforcement and community leaders become increasingly demoralized as emergency rooms become more congested. Loss of human potential dwarfs any potential revenue gains. Gone, too, is moral fiber. Cynicism and knowing ignorance erode public health and safety.
At the National level, lack of responsible leadership is less forgivable. Rather than abide hard numbers, caring about kids, parents, teachers and law enforcement, national leaders allow foreign traffickers to proliferate. The outgoing President dared ignore the overdose trends. He laughed at drug abuse, asserted safety where there was none. He failed to enforce clear Federal laws, and in a bizarre twist released thousands of hardened, drug-trafficking felons. America is the victim of this presidential indifference. By not enforcing Federal drug trafficking and money laundering laws, and not explaining why they should be enforced, the disease has spread. By not raising and decisively winning Federal pre-emption against aberrant State laws imperiling the whole nation, he and his two Attorneys General have endangered us all. That must stop.
We return to the opening question: Why should you care? Because the tide is, look around you, here. America is in the throes of an epidemic, costing 50,000 young lives a year. As the drug crisis hits home, it puts you at risk …behind the wheel with drugged drivers. It endangers law enforcement and elevates drug abuse and addiction all around you. It preys on those you know and do not know, perhaps even stalks some you love. It is permeating our school systems (private and public), spreading false information to impressionable minds, raising personal and property crime (simple to homicide), and making the society objectively sicker, less safe and more at risk of wider breakdown.
Not enough for you? When it reaches you, it will be too late. The alternative is appeasement. What did Churchill say? “An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.” And Chaucer? “Time and tide wait for no man.” Wisdom of the ages — directly applicable here. When the drugged driver hits you head-on, or your grandchild or friend — there will be no turning back that unforgiving clock. No, the time isnow for decisive action. Needed: Swift confirmation of Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions, a Cabinet-rank drug czar with courage, a re-empowered Drug Enforcement Administration — and a Federal government recommitted to saving lives. Because the tide is here.
• Robert Charles is a former assistant secretary of state for international narcotics and law enforcement under George W. Bush and author of “Narcotics and Terrorism” (Chelsea House, 2004).