Newsbrief: Indiana Official Calls for National Agency to Provide Drugs to Addicts 2/4/05

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The president of Indiana's Lake County Board of Commissioners has called for a form of drug maintenance therapy for hard-core addicts in an open letter to his local newspaper and state and federal officials. Embracing the measure as a means of eliminating the black market drug trade, Commissioner Gerry Scheub argued that it would shrink the social cost of illicit drug use.

While mentions of Indiana may conjure up images of cornfields, which may be found in Lake County, the county, which abuts neighboring Chicago, is the home of gritty cities like East Chicago and Gary, and is no stranger to either drug use, drug trafficking, or drug prohibition-related violence. In fact, Lake County has its very own High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) designation. Former Gary Mayor Richard Hatcher once similarly called for drug maintenance programs as a possible solution to urban problems in the 1970s.

"I am concerned about the abominable curse of illegal drugs," wrote Scheub, warning of "sub-humans among us" who prey upon the young and the addicted. But as much as he loathes drug dealers, he recognized the futility of current policies. "No matter how diligently we pursue drug dealers and incarcerate them, there are always other criminals that fill their shoes and continue their pursuit of the despicable deleterious illegal trade. Drugs do and will continue to destroy lives unless and until a final and effective solution is devised."

The ominous overtones of "final solutions" to any social problem notwithstanding, it appears Scheub's heart is in the right place. "I often wonder why our national leaders do not subscribe to the idea of creating a national agency that would administer a program for addicts," he suggested. "Addicted persons would be examined by qualified medical personnel to determine if they are indeed addicted and then be administered the drug at a minimal cost. If and when such a program is instituted, the illegal drug trade will effectively be eliminated." The Northwest Indiana News reported that Scheub said that no one incident prompted the letter, although he has long been concerned about the costs of jailing nonviolent minor drug offenders. Neither is he going soft on the drug trade, Scheub said.

But Scheub's ideas didn't wash with a DEA spokesman contacted by the News. Addiction is a curable disease, said Rafael Lemaitre. "We know that we can make people better," Lemaitre said. "We know that we can heal them from their addictions. So this notion that we would like to maintain their disease and prolong their misery and keep them slaves to addiction would not be considered good public health policy."

But it has already worked in Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Germany, and a similar heroin maintenance program is pending final approval in Canada. And now a county commissioner in Indiana thinks it's a good idea in this country. And that's a good thing, Drug Policy Alliance executive director Ethan Nadelmann told the News. "It's incredibly valuable when an elected official puts forward a provocative idea that does offer to help deal with at least a part of America's drug problem," Nadelmann said.

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Issue #373 -- 2/4/05

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