A Family Conversation About The Drug War
GRANDSON (a late, late teenage pre-med student): “What do you think about the drug war, Grandpa?”
GRANDPA: “I think we should scuttle it and switch to harm reduction.”
GRANDSON: “Such as?”
GRANDPA: “Sterile needles for drug users so they don’t transmit AIDS to each other and the rest of us.”
GRANDSON: “I recently heard an interview with a leader of the rebels in Colombia, South America. The reporter asked ‘why do you keep supplying cocaine to the United States?’ He replied ‘drug use in the U.S. is your problem. If we didn’t supply it, somebody else would.’”
GRANDMA: “With the recent push in Congress for military support to the Colombian army wouldn’t we be financing both sides in a civil war?”
GRANDSON: “At least part of that has to be wrong.”
GRANDMA: “A big harm reduction would be to release all nonviolent drug offenders from jail. A fraction of the savings would finance prompt treatment of drug users who want to quit. At present waiting lists for treatment are many months long.”
GRANDPA: “We are not talking just about expense or even just about the hardship of those in jail. Jailing these relatively normal parents and spouses deprives the next generation of proper parenting. I remember when drunks were jailed for drunkenness in the absence of any other offense. It didn’t work any better when alcohol was illegal than it would now.”
GRANDMA: “And this is true even though alcohol results in more spouse and child abuse than other hard drugs.”
DAUGHTER (Grandson’s Mother): “Daddy, didn’t you used to tell the kids my age not to smoke pot especially in an effort to deprive the underworld of revenue so we would have more honest cops?”
GRANDPA: “I still tell them that. Too much money in the wrong hands can subvert the whole system. The worldwide drug traffic has more cash flow than several small countries put together.”
GRANDMA: “Some of the rest of the savings should go for research on how to treat cocaine addiction. Not enough is known. If you teach rats how to push a lever to get drugs, the heroin using rats get their regular fixes, keep eating, and live normal lives, just as human caffeine addicts do, but the cocaine users eat less and less and soon die. We have been wrong to demonize heroin. It is one of the least toxic pain killing narcotics.”
GRANDSON: “How do you know that?”
GRANDMA: “Ask Grandpa. He is so old he has seen legal heroin used medically.”
GRANDPA: “The manufacture and wholesale trade of heroin became illegal in the mid 1930's, but retail stocks could still be dispensed. As a medical student in the mid ‘40's I saw heroin used for cancer patients, causing less nausea and sleepiness than resulted from other narcotics. This is also the experience in countries where heroin is still legal, such as United Kingdom, Switzerland, and Poland.”
GRANDSON: “But isn’t heroin much more addicting?”
GRANDMA: “That is true, but who cares in the case of terminal cancer patients? In Hospice we use a lot of M.S. Contin, a long acting oral form of morphine that is not only long acting but also more convenient and probably less addicting.”
GRANDPA: “In all classes of addicting drugs the long acting ones are less addicting because they give less initial “rush” and less severe withdrawal because that is also slowed. You know, if heroin were made in a long-acting oral form, we could have the advantage of heroin’s lessened toxicity without the increased addiction potential.”
GRANDSON: “You mentioned several countries where heroin is legal. Maybe when I get further along in my medical career I can promote such research in one of those countries.”
GRANDPA: “If we get this brainstorming published, it could be ready about the time you need it for your patients.”
GRANDMA: “By the time you guys get medical use of heroin legalized we should already be working on taking the profit out of the drug trade by some partial legalization. Treatment clinics can already supply legal methadone to addicts under supervision.”
SON-IN-LAW (Grandson’s Father): “How about licensing addicts sort of the way we should already be doing with guns for that other kind of harm reduction?”
GRANDPA: “We aren’t addiction treatment experts or legal experts. But our ideas might just catch on if we get them out to the public and the experts. Prohibition of alcohol was repealed when I was about ten years old, only a few months after the pundits were saying it would never happen, even if it were a good idea. Events showed that the public was more ready than the pundits. The result removed bootlegging revenue from criminals and diverted it to state and federal taxes.
John A. Frantz, M.D.
Chairperson, Monroe City Board of Health
Mary H. Frantz, M.D.
Associate Medical Adviser, Hospice of Green County
August 17, 2000
Later I asked my grandson a question perhaps in retaliation to his drug war question, but he had an answer right away. When asked how he could answer a difficult question so quickly, he responded, “Ok, I worry about stuff like that.” The question: Galileo and Copernicus showed that we aren’t the center of the universe and that upset people. Darwin showed that we might be just one more animal and that upset them a little more. What’s the next new idea that is going to hit that fan?
His reply: “When they find enough about the anatomy, circuitry and chemistry of the brain to explain the mind, that will upset them even worse”. It may never happen, but it was an amazing answer.