Christine Minhee and Steve Calandrillo, The Cure for America's Opioid Crisis? End the War on Drugs, 42 Harv. J. L. & Pub. Pol'y 547 (2019), https://digitalcommons.law.uw.edu/faculty-articles/510
The Cure for America's Opioid Crisis? End the War on Drugs
Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy
The War on Drugs. What began as a battle waged on morals has created multiple public health crises, and no recent phenomenon illustrates this in more macabre detail than America’s opioid disaster. 2017 alone amassed a higher death toll than the totality of American military casualties in the Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan wars combined. With this wave of mortalities came a crash of parens patriae lawsuits filed by states, counties, and cities on the theory that jurisdictions are entitled to recompense for the costs of addiction ostensibly created by Big Pharma. To those attuned to the failures of the Iron Law of Prohibition, this litigious blame game functions merely as a Band-Aid over a deeply infected wound. This Article synthesizes empirical economic impact data to paint a clearer picture of the role that drug prohibition has played in the devastation of American communities, exposes parens patriae litigation as a misguided attempt at retribution rather than deterrence, and calls for the legal and political decriminalization of opiates. We reveal that America’s fear of decriminalization has at its root the “chemical hook” fallacy—a holdover from Reagan-era drug policy that has been debunked by far less wealthy countries like Switzerland and Portugal, whose economies have already benefited from discarding the War on Drugs as an irrational and expensive approach to public health. We argue that the legal and political acceptance of addiction as a public health issue—not the view that addiction is a moral failure to scourge—is the only rational, fiscally responsible option left to a country that badly needs both a prophylactic against future waves of heavy opioid casualties and restored faith in its own criminal justice system.