The two-pronged solution

Curing the heroin epidemic with the free market

By Mark Luedtke

A Google search for “heroin epidemic” returns 2,580,000 results. Everybody talks about it, but few really want to cure it, even though the cure is simple.

Before you can solve a problem, you have to understand the problem. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Since 1999, the number of overdose deaths involving opioids (including prescription opioids and heroin) quadrupled. From 2000 to 2015 more than half a million people died from drug overdoses. Ninety-one Americans die every day from an opioid overdose.”

Since the CDC believes 1999 is around the starting point of this epidemic, it’s useful to ask what major change happened in the few years preceding 1999 that influenced the heroin market. The U.S. invasion of Afghanistan leaps to mind. The Taliban had virtually eliminated opium production in Afghanistan before U.S. troops invaded. Since then, Afghanistan’s opium production hits records year after year. This fantastic supply of opium fuels the epidemic.

Economist Mark Thornton, writing on the economics of the Prohibition Era (1920-1933), offers another clue. Analyzing alcohol prohibition data, he discovered that after an initial drop, Prohibition did not reduce consumption. Instead, people responded to Prohibition by distilling and consuming more potent, contaminated, and dangerous forms of alcohol. As a result, alcohol-related deaths quadrupled during Prohibition.

Thornton notes this happens with all prohibited substances. He defines this Iron Law of Prohibition: “That law states that the more intense the law enforcement, the more potent the prohibited substance becomes. When drugs or alcoholic beverages are prohibited, they will become more potent, will have greater variability in potency, will be adulterated with unknown or dangerous substances, and will not be produced and consumed under normal market constraints.”

As always, government is not the solution to the drug problem. Government is the problem. With that understanding, the solution is obvious: end the war in Afghanistan and legalize drugs. Two simple acts of Congress would save tens of thousands of American lives every year.

This isn’t just a thought experiment. Drug decriminalization worked in Portugal. In another article, Thornton illuminates, “One picture that sums up the Portuguese success story shows that Portugal has the second lowest death rate from illegal drugs in all of Europe after experiencing one of the worst rates with prohibition.”

For those truly concerned with dramatically reducing deaths from drugs, decriminalization, as in Portugal is a great first step, but it’s only a first step. Outright legalization is the best solution, in part because Big Pharma, doctors, and government bureaucracies push prescription opioids, making them gateway drugs to heroin addiction.

In yet another article, Thornton explains, “Doctors are prescribing legal opiates to people like fishermen and coal miners who sustain painful injuries on a regular basis. They become addicted and then get cut off. Eventually, they cannot afford the black market prescription drugs, so they turn to the often deadly alternative, heroin.”

Yesterday a friend told me her doctor prescribed 90 OxyContin for her painful gallstones because she wasn’t yet in enough pain for her gallbladder to be removed.

Thornton notes, “Essentially, the pharmaceutical companies bribe medical researchers, doctors, and health bureaucrats to recommend to authorities such as the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) to promote the use of drugs such as OxyContin and Vicodin, instead of less powerful and less addictive alternatives that were used in the past.”

The FDA isn’t the only government agency pushing Big Pharma’s pills. The Drug Enforcement Agency is pushing to ban the natural herbal painkiller kratom to further cement Big Pharma’s monopoly on painkillers. Addictive, deadly painkillers.

But rulers don’t want to stop the epidemic. They want to make as much money as possible from drugs, legal and illegal, and they don’t care how many dead bodies they leave in their wake. The more dead bodies, the better for them, because those victims become tools for them to seize more wealth and power from the people. And they’re backed by fanatical prohibitionist bullies who would rather see people die in droves than allow anybody to enjoy any drug.

If we adopted a free market for drugs, users would substitute weaker, safer versions of drugs than what they use today, in the same way drinkers substituted beer and wine for moonshine after Prohibition ended. Big Pharma’s monopoly would disappear, enabling entrepreneurs to replace prescription opioids with safer products. Without drug crime, police forces, courts, and jails would be cut in half, reducing taxes and boosting the economy. Everybody would win except those few making money off prohibition and the death it causes. 

The views and opinions expressed in Conspiracy Theorist are the views and/or opinions of the author and do not reflect the views and/or opinions of the Dayton City Paper or Dayton City Media and are published strictly for entertainment purposes.

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Reach DCP freelance writer Mark Luedtke at

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