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[OP-ED] Time To Inject Common Sense Into Efforts To Stop Deadly Drug Abuse

Billions wasted on failed Drug War practices across Pennsylvania.

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Desperate times call for desperate measures!

In early 1990 the desperate Philadelphia circumstance of drug overdose deaths far exceeding homicides led a local elected official to propose a seemingly desperate measure: study alternatives to ineffective Drug War practices as an method to cut drug related crime, chaos and fatalities.

The common sense proposal of then City Councilman John Street for city government to merely study alternatives to Drug War failures ignited castigation.

Opponents denounced Street’s suggestion to study options like legalizing drugs and providing drugs to addicts to cut crime committed by addicts to get drugs.

A February 1990 Philadelphia Inquirer editorial that rebuked Street encapsulated anti-study sentiments expressed broadly from cops to clergy. “Legalizing drugs would be a devastating admission of failure,” that editorial declared, sidestepping the fact that the Drug War was already a devastating failure in terms of stopping either drug use or drug abuse.

This year the desperate Philadelphia circumstance of 1,200 drug overdose deaths in 2017 – up from 907 the previous year and 702 in 2015 – led Philly Mayor Jim Kenney to propose a desperate measure: create safe drug injection sites to reduce overdose deaths.

Kenney’s injection site proposal – cheered by some and jeered by others – replicates sites in European cities that have helped reduce overdose deaths. 

A recent Inquirer editorial endorsed Kenney’s injection site proposal.

What a difference a few decades make. 

What a difference a change in drug overdose death demographics make. 

Overdose deaths in Philly among whites are double that of blacks and 50 percent higher than Latinos according to City Hall data.

Street, now a Temple University professor, said authorities have learned much about Drug War shortcoming since the 1990s yet too much callous indifference remains. “People are dying all over but no one wants to admit mistakes,” Street, a former Philly mayor, said during an interview last week.

One huge mistake authorities in Pennsylvania continue to make is refusal to legalize marijuana – curiously a substance that has proven helpful in treating opioid addiction.

In March 1983 John Street’s brother, Milton, then a Pennsylvania State Senator, proposed the legalization of marijuana as a method to raise tax revenue and reduce racism in the War on Weed that targeted minorities.

Milton Street’s legalize marijuana proposal triggered ridiculed rejection from legislative colleagues, cops and clergy. 

Last year Pennsylvania’s Auditor General proposed marijuana legalization as a method to generate tax revenue for the desperately income deficit state government.

Interestingly, both Milton Street and the Auditor General projected marijuana taxation revenue at around $200 million annually. 

Rejection of Street’s legalization suggestion robbed state coffers of over $6-billion in tax revenue plus additional billions expended on enforcement that focused on marijuana possession not the more dangerous opioids.

Last week Pa State Senator Sharif Street, Milton Street’s nephew and John Street’s son, joined some fellow legislators and activists in support for marijuana legalization – voicing concerns similar to his uncle.

The Street family knows the right road for drug policy yet others detour to society's detriment.

 

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