Because heroin is sold via an unregulated illicit market, its quality and purity fluctuate tremendously. A user accustomed to low-quality heroin who unknowingly uses near pure heroin will likely overdose. The inevitable tough-on-drugs response to overdose deaths threatens public safety. Attempts to limit the supply of drugs while demand remains constant only increase the profitability of trafficking. For addictive drugs like heroin, a spike in street prices leads desperate addicts to increase criminal activity to feed desperate habits. The drug war doesn't fight crime, it fuels crime.
While the United States remains committed to harmful drug policies modeled after alcohol prohibition, Europe has largely abandoned the drug war in favor of harm reduction alternatives. Switzerland's heroin maintenance trials have been shown to reduce drug-related disease, death and crime among chronic users. Addicts would not be sharing needles if not for zero-tolerance laws that restrict access to clean syringes, nor would they be committing crimes if not for artificially inflated black-market prices.
Providing chronic addicts with standardized doses in a clinical setting eliminates many of the problems associated with heroin use. Heroin maintenance pilot projects are underway in Germany, Spain and the Netherlands. If expanded, prescription maintenance would deprive organized crime of a core client base. This would render illegal heroin trafficking unprofitable and spare future generations addiction. Putting public health before politics may send the wrong message to children, but I like to think the children are more important than the message.
Robert Sharpe, MPA Policy Analyst Common Sense for Drug Policy