I’ve covered abortion, religion, sex offenders, and taken on some politically powerful people, but somehow, I’m still alive to talk about it. But after more than 2,000 opinion pieces, the contention that truly incurs the wrath of the rabble is that addiction is a choice and not a disease.
And it is!
Before you pull out all the pitchforks and torches, I understand that once something like alcohol becomes an addiction, the “choice” to kick it becomes much more difficult. But no one becomes an alcoholic with their first drink.
I also understand that, for many individuals, all it takes is one dose of heroin and they’re hooked. But that first injection is always a choice.
Furthermore, I’m willing to stipulate that many opioid addicts succumb as a result of taking eminently legal painkillers like oxycontin or hydrocodone after surgical and other difficult medical procedures. But taking that first pill is a choice.
Trust me! I’m no hero. But while recently cleaning out a cabinet, I came across some Tylenol with Hydrocodone from having two root canals in three days last year. The only reason I filled the prescription is the endodontist scared the crap out of me as to the possible pain, but given my fascinating family history, I CHOSE not to take them.
No amount of pain was worth the risk.
So, I’ll say it again, addiction is a choice, and with all of the recovery options out there, staying addicted is also a choice.
The reason for that rather lengthy preamble is I’m consistently baffled by the expanding press coverage of drug dealers facing drug induced homicide charges with some folks calling for even stiffer penalties.
Whatever happened to personal responsibility?
Trust me, I understand the desperation of addicts because I grew up in a family full of them, but I still don’t understand why, with today’s heroin inevitably laced with the elephant tranquilizer fentanyl, anyone would risk taking it even once. It’s even worse than playing Russian roulette.
Historically, it took 30 milligrams for an adult to OD, but now, just three milligrams of fentanyl and you’re done. To put that in perspective, three milligrams is just .0001 or ten-thousandths of an ounce. That’s basically the weight of a gnat or mosquito.
And a margin of error that absurdly slim means a heroin habit is the equivalent of committing suicide. If it doesn’t kill you the first or second time, it will on the third try.
But my biggest problem with drug induced homicide statutes is they’ll never function as the deterrent our justice system intended them to be. Most opioid dealers are addicts themselves, and that’s how they pay for their habit. You could threaten them with the death penalty and it won’t put a dent in the trade.
So, I turned to Kane County Sheriff Ron Hain to get a different perspective.
Ron said that what law enforcement is getting away from is charging the “associates” of the deceased like the friend that did the drug with them, the person that dropped them off at the ER and disappeared, or the individual that shared – not sold – the drug.
“Those are the people we want to get help,” Hain said, “We want to build a culture where it’s easier to get clean than to remain an addict.”
And I couldn’t agree more.
But when I asked him about charging drug dealers with homicide, as was the case in the recent overdose death of a Batavia man, Ron said, “Word is out. If you push a deadly drug it’s the same thing as possessing a loaded gun.” He also noted that drug induced homicide charges carry less time than a more typical murder charge.
Ron added that these charges “Can help bring closure to a family who lost a loved one to heroin.”
And that’s where we disagree.
My counterargument was, “So, are we going to start charging bartenders for DUI deaths?” Ron said that it has happened, but alcohol related death cases tend to land in civil courtrooms. It’s just another strange vagary of our court system I suppose.
But taking it out to its illogical conclusion, if we’re gonna charge drug dealers for overdose deaths, are we going to charge the Dunkin’ Donuts clerk for aiding and abetting that obviously impending customer coronary? What about the Walgreen’s clerk who just sold someone a carton of cigarettes? Why not charge car dealers for vehicle related deaths? A two-ton vehicle can certainly become a lethal weapon.
What really frosts my cookies, however, is we’re not nearly going after the individuals who are most responsible for the opioid epidemic – pharmaceutical company CEOs.
I’m sure some of you’ve read the recent news stories about how, at the height of this scourge, opioid manufacturers dumped 76 billion painkillers on pharmacies across the U.S. Do the math and that comes out to 204 pills for every man, woman and child in this country.
One small-town West Virginia pharmacy received 10,000 opioids a day. The State of West Virginia finally sued and won a $37 million settlement against McKeeson Corporation, the largest such statewide settlement to date. But that hardly puts a dent in their $208 billion 2018 revenue.
As a part of the settlement, McKeeson denied any wrongdoing.
So, here’s my thought! If we are gonna go after drug dealers, let’s go after the big fish behind the opioid epidemic. And when the Feds finally put three or four pharmaceutical company CEOs in the pokey, watch how quickly things change.
Because, beyond the personal responsibility issue, going after your garden variety street pusher ain’t gonna change a damn thing.