The Fantasy of Stopping the 'Heroin Epidemic' by Stopping the Heroin

Bill Bennett wants to "bring back the war on drugs."


Heritage Foundation

This week two former drug czars faulted the Obama administration for not "interrupting the abundant supply of cheap, potent heroin." In my latest Forbes column, I explore the misconceptions underlying that criticism:

Two former drug czars, William J. Bennett and John P. Walters, want to "bring back the war on drugs," as the headline of their recent op-ed piece in The Boston Globe puts it. If you follow drug policy (and even if you don't), you may be puzzled by that recommendation, since neither the federal government nor the states have stopped using violence to suppress the production, distribution, and consumption of arbitrarily proscribed intoxicants. Even marijuana, although legalized by four states, is still a pretext for appalling invasions of privacy, draconian prison sentences, and the occasional senseless death.

Perhaps Bennett and Walters were fooled by their successor Gil Kerlikowske, who in 2011 announced that the Obama administration had "ended the war on drugs" two years earlier. Kerlikowske has since moved on to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), where his duties include waging the war he said was over. CBP brags that it seizes "10,327 pounds of drugs" on a typical day.

Evidently Bennett and Walters would like to see a bigger haul. They complain that President Obama, faced with "a heroin crisis," has not had the guts to "do what we did" with cocaine in the 1980s and '90s—i.e., "attack the supply." Bennett and Walters' reasoning is impeccable: If there were no heroin, no one would be using it. "The heroin epidemic is inflicted upon us by criminal acts that produce an abundant supply of inexpensive drugs," they write. "Stopping these criminal acts will stop the epidemic."

Sounds simple, doesn't it? But while it is easy enough to "attack the supply," it is quite a bit harder to have a noticeable impact on it. You might surmise as much from the fact that the government has been attacking the supply of heroin since 1914, but the drug has never been cheaper or more plentiful.

Read the whole thing.

NEXT: Too Close for Comfort

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  1. At this point, one can only assume people like Bennett and Walters have some personal, financial stake in the war on drugs.

    1. Narcos 2: The DC Connection

    2. Bennet is a moral scold.He thinks the war on alcohol in the 20’s worked. Of course,his WOD’s stance keeps him in book fees and in the papers and TV..Got to make that gambling money.

  2. Once again I will restate my position on Bennett:


    1. Oh, also isn’t he some kind of gambling addict himself?

      /my shocked face

      1. That’s a private matter,don’t you know?

    2. I recall him as one of the most evil figures of any recent administration. I see nothing has changed.

  3. I also think about cops and DA’s sitting around drinking scotch or beer and talking about how to stop these terrible drugs.

    1. Then they go for a leisurely midnight drive, swerving through opposing traffic at 90 mph while flashing their badge.

  4. bring back the war on drugs

    I did not realize that it had ended.

  5. The Fantasy of Stopping the ‘Heroin Epidemic’

  6. Reagan said that Government only creates problems – and to prove it, he hired Bill Bennett.

  7. Since the whole point of attacking supply is to reduce consumption, it is hard to see why Bennett and Walters think their approach to cocaine was so successful.

    I hope you don’t mean that. Government systems are largely put in place to deal with large vague problems. How successful are they? Well, how do you measure success? Almost always, they want hard facts and the only hard facts they have are on the input side of the equation, so that’s what gets measured. How successful was Bennett in waging the war on cocaine? Well, he spent x dollars and hired y agents and seized z tons of cocaine. If the budget for the war went up, employed more soldiers, captured more coke, that’s a success. Never mind if cocaine became cheaper, more plentiful, more widely used, those numbers are hard to measure. Never mind that measuring the inputs against the outputs indicates you are losing the war.

    The Dept of Agriculture trumpets the success of the Food Stamp program by pointing to how much more money they’re spending and how many more people are on Food Stamps every year. By their standards, having a bigger department with a bigger budget shows a program is a success whereas a normal person would consider needing more people and more money to do your job a clear sign of failure. True success in the program, as part of the war on poverty, would be if nobody were on Food Stamps, not if everybody were on Food Stamps.

    1. My niece works with a local literacy program that buys books for kids and a recent fundraising letter they sent out talked about how when the program started they had bought 681 books but, thanks to your generous donations, last year they had bought over 25,000 books. My first thought was, so when you started 681 kids needed books and now 25,000 kids need books? Why would anybody be stupid enough to give money to evil bastards like you who apparently are proud of the fact that many more children are now illiterate because of your efforts? Of course, that’s not what they meant – what they meant is that they are now helping so many more children. But where’s your evidence for that? You simply asssume that giving kids books help them learn how to read but I don’t see a single citation to any study or anything showing that that is true. How do you know your program is successful at its stated goal of combatting illiteracy when the only thing you’re measuring is how many books you’ve given away? Counting books is easy, so that’s the measuring stick you use. And nobody but me is crass enough to point out that counting books is a piss-poor way to count how many kids can’t read.

      1. the food stamps example made sense, but you lost me on the literacy program.

        I don’t think the numbers they’re touting are meant as a measurement of success in eliminating illiteracy. Also not sure why you’re thinking 1kid/1book. One illiterate kid may read a number of books before becoming proficient, and now they have THAT MANY MORE books for each kid to read.

        Anyway, should tracking the % of illiteracy over time really be part of that local program’s mission? At most, they might track how many illiterate kids came to the program and left with a proficiency.

  8. i can’t wait for this man to die so I can piss on his grave.

  9. Don’t our Drug Warriors realize that even summary execution of heroin addicts is not likely to stamp out the “evil scourge?” What is the evidence that someone addicted to heroin would not be able to contribute to society, in a positive manner, if he or she could get it at the pharmacy?

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