Narcotic maintenance vs. Addiction

This recent WaPo article highlights one of the senseless incongruities of the U.S.'s dubious policy of drug prohibition: Twice, the patient, a man in his mid-30s, said he lost his prescriptions for Valium and Percocet. Once, he said he was in a car accident that scattered his pills on the road. Another time, he said the medicine he was first prescribed was no good, so he "returned the pills." Another time, his wife called and said their house had been "searched by authorities" and the medicine had gone missing. Each time, no matter the story, Peter S. Trent or Hampton J. Jackson Jr., doctors at the same orthopedic practice in Oxon Hill, refilled the prescription, according to the Maryland Board of Physicians. Over the course of 21/2 years, the doctors gave the patient 275 prescriptions, mostly for Percocet, a powerful, highly addictive painkiller. Sometimes they wrote the patient more than one prescription for the drug on the same day. In a single month, they wrote him 11 prescriptions for Percocet, totaling 734 pills. On one hand, maybe the patients had a "legitimate" need for large amounts of narcotics, but most doctors wouldn't write prescriptions for the drugs because they fear prosecution if they did so. On the other hand, the patients may be addicts without a "legitimate" need for the drugs, but they seek to obtain the narcotics through prescription because it is safer and probably cheaper than buying them illegally. Current U.S. drug policy mandates that the patients who have a "legitimate" need for the narcotics can buy them legally, but the addicts cannot. What valid public policy purpose is served by that distinction? Such a distinction only leads to arbitrary and capricious enforcement of criminal laws that terrorizes citizens who desperately need treatment regardless of the cause of that need. Irrespective of whether a patient has a "legitimate" need for narcotics or is simply an addict, the patient should be able to obtain the drugs legally through prescription. Such a policy would allow the patient to obtain a known product at a reasonable price without risking expensive incarceration. A reduction of the mass incarceration problem and the expensive and brutal black market for drugs would be two fringe benefits of such a change in policy. The federal government already funds methadone clinics for heroin addicts. Why not extend such a policy to narcotic maintenance? A truly civil society would find a way.

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