November 2, 2014

Today I heard that Vancouver, British Columbia was more or less legalizing heroin. Specifically, they were allowing select doctors to prescribe heroin to far-gone addicts.

That’s good. Vancouver’s saving lives. Just as Portugal, which has legalized all drugs, is saving lives. Just as the Netherlands and other countries that have legalized “soft drugs” are saving lives.

The biggest problem with illicit drugs to a street buyer, beyond anxiety and violence from law enforcement, is not knowing the purity of a buy. Someone can buy something on Tuesday and have the time of their life, and then, come Sunday, they can buy that same amount and fatally overdose.

Clandestine manufacture is difficult. Common reagents are known and tracked. You can’t even buy a single pack of Bronkaid for legitimate reasons without some pharmacist entering your identification into a national database and checking how often you buy it. It’s controlled. It’s one of the few products on shelves that still contain ephedrine, a common precursor for amphetamine.

Due to the difficulty of producing illicit drugs, at the end of the retail line, purity isn’t as important as having something to sell. A common distributor needs to ration their supply, because if they don’t, they’ll find themselves without anything to sell. This results in drugs being “watered down” with other, cheaper things, be they other drugs, or simply whatever looks “good enough.”

A lack of safe access to illegal drugs also pushes people towards things that are too new to be illegal, and perhaps worse, without any history of human use. Anyone who buys a newer drug because they’re too shy to buy an illegal one is a guinea pig in a clinical trial that’s anything but clinical.

Because the toxically safe LSD is illegal, people have bought 25i-NBOMe and Bromo-DragonFLY and died. Because the toxically safe marijuana is illegal, people have bought flavor-of-the-week cannabinoids and given themselves dementia. Because prescription benzodiazepines are harder to come by than designer drugs with similar chemical structures, people have lost whole swaths of their memory to retrograde amnesia. These are just some of the short term effects users have discovered with their own bodies, and why designer drugs sometimes disappear from the market without first becoming illegal — killing customers is bad business.

And all those things are possible with existing legal and illegal drugs too, but at least those drugs’ potential adverse effects and drug interactions are already known and not purely theoretical.

For a heroin-specific example, heroin-like designer drugs regularly empty hospital naloxone supplies, all without helping the overdose victim. Not all chemicals are abated by naloxone. Some interactions may even prove deadly. That means despite naxolone treatment, an overdose victim can still die, and any victim actually suffering from a heroin overdose that comes in after them may be unable to receive naloxone, as there may be none left.

Designer drugs are very common now. Our world is increasingly globalized, and the Internet makes it easy to hire a labs in foreign countries to whip up designer drugs. A hundred kilograms of some inexpensive mystery powder can be drop-shipped to your door if you know where to look on Alibaba.

The unknown purity of illegal drugs is also why there’s such a grey market for “pain pills” in the southeastern United States. There are plenty of doctors in the South who will give prescriptions for “back aches,” just as plenty of doctors in California will give medical marijuana recommendations for “headaches.” If pain pills are crushed up and snorted, smoked, injected, and so on, the high’s the same, so why bother playing with dubious street chemicals.

Prescription heroin in Vancouver will bring Vancouver’s heroin addicts a stable, regular, clean, known dosage of the drug, in turn, helping those addicts deal with their addiction. I also hope it keeps victims from dying if they ever do relapse during their treatment, as relapse is the number one cause of fatal heroin overdoses. If a victim has lost their tolerance from being clean, making their old dosages too strong for them, or the purity on the street has changed too much since their last dose, a victim may misjudge how much they need, causing a potentially fatal overdose.

When I was younger, I believed that all drugs should be decriminalized because drug criminalization is a fool’s gambit that wastes resources and promotes corruption. Now that I’m older and wiser, I instead know that all drugs should be legalized outright.

America’s war on drugs has killed more people, ruined more lives, and destroyed more communities than drugs alone ever could. But the war’s too profitable to stop. The modern slavery that is the United States’ prison system and the money the drug war’s brought to law enforcement are too much for America’s socio-political elite to pass up. The average person’s life means nothing more to them than a mere smidgen in their cost–benefit analysis. We’re just pocket change.

The only hard drugs are the ones you don’t take.