The Missing Parts of the Drug Czar's Whitney Houston "teachable moment"


Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske blathered about the "teachable moment" inherent in the death of pop star Whitney Houston. The Drug Policy Alliance's Meghan Ralston writing at Alternet thinks our czar dropped the ball:

Gil Kerlikowske, speaking with CBS News about Houston's untimely death, referred to it as a "teachable moment." Ah, the "teachable moment" message. I knew it would surface eventually. It always gets trotted out when someone famous dies of a drug overdose…. 

But he misses an enormous opportunity by failing to specify what Americans can teach or learn from Houston's alleged overdose.

He could have talked about the importance of providing basic information about how to prevent, recognize and respond to an overdose at places like high schools, colleges, drug treatment facilities and homeless shelters. He could have said that people should never mix alcohol with sedatives because it can significantly increase the possibility of an accidental, or even fatal, overdose.

He could have taught us how to recognize warning signs of an overdose in progress, like lips and nail beds turning blue, or very slow or labored breath. He could have explained that the chances of surviving an overdose, like those of surviving a heart attack, depend greatly on how fast one receives medical assistance. And he could havementioned  that states like New York, Illinois, New Mexico, Connecticut and Washington have recently passed "911 Good Samaritan" laws to encourage people to immediately call 911 without fear of arrest and prosecution for minor drug law violations.

At the very least, he could have said that – contrary to popular belief – it's not teenagers who die from drug overdose in the greatest numbers, but their parents. People in their 40s and 50s are more likely to die from an accidental drug overdose than adolescents. Parents are constantly being cautioned these days to "lock up your medicine cabinets," as a way to reduce the likelihood of potentially dangerous drugs getting into young hands. But do parents themselves realize their own risks if they improperly use those same drugs? 

But all of that would have required admitting that lots of people can and do use, or even in his own mind "abuse," these drugs safely, and that's never something the Drug Czar wants to teach. 

Reason's Jacob Sullum did make such points and much, much more in his classic book Saying Yes: In Defense of Drug Use.

Nick Gillespie from the other day on how the drug war likely made it harder for Ms. Houston to seek help, if she thought she needed any.