Legalization Isn't the Solution to the Opioid Crisis

One painful aspect of the public debates over the opioid-addiction crisis is how much they mirror the arguments that arise from personal addiction crises. If you’ve ever had a loved one struggle with drugs — in my case, my late brother, Josh — the national exercise in guilt-driven blame-shifting and finger-pointing, combined with flights of sanctimony and ideological righteousness, has a familiar echo.

The difference between the public arguing and the personal agonizing is that, at the national level, we can afford our abstractions. When you have skin in the game, none of the easy answers seem all that easy.

For instance, “tough love” sounds great until you contemplate the possible real-world consequences. My father summarized the dilemma well. “Tough love” — i.e., cutting off all support for my brother so he could hit rock bottom and then start over, had the best chance of success. It also had the best chance of failure, i.e., death.

There’s also a lot of truth to “just say no,” but once someone has already said “yes,” it’s tantamount to preaching “keep your horses in the barn” long after they’ve left.

But if there’s one seemingly simple answer that has been fully discredited by the opioid crisis, it’s that the solution lies in wholesale drug legalization.

In “Libertarianism: A Primer,” David Boaz argues that “if drugs were produced by reputable firms, and sold in liquor stores, fewer people would die from overdoses and tainted drugs, and fewer people would be the victims of prohibition-related robberies, muggings and drive-by-shootings.”

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Maybe.

But you know what else would happen if we legalized heroin and opioids? More people would use heroin and opioids. And the more people who use such addictive…