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Heroin Prevalence: The Real Crime

Amazing what a difference 35 years or so can make.

In 1936 a well-meaning church group, joined by an ensemble of really bad actors, produced an anti-drug propaganda movie called Reefer Madness, a terrifying tale of people driven to murder, assault, suicide and insanity by the evil influence of marijuana. In the 1970s, that same film evolved into a campy cult classic, its tone of anti-drug hysteria now prompting hysterical fits of laughter with its over-the-top, eye-rolling melodrama. Flash forward to today, and we have conservative economists, in all seriousness, advocating the legalization not only of marijuana, but of hard drugs like meth and heroin.

Whatever may come of that argument, it is hard to imagine that even 35 years from now, anyone will consider the current drug problem in America to be funny. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that in 2010, more than 12 million Americans were abusing prescription drugs. And while theories that marijuana use leads to hard drug use have largely gone up in smoke, a clear pattern has emerged showing that prescription drug addiction often leads to heroin addiction.

It is a slippery slope: You start out taking prescribed painkillers to treat an injury. Innocent enough. But even after the injury is gone, along with your supply, your need for the drug is still there. Tighter controls have discouraged even the shadiest doctors from writing scrips willly-nilly — so you take to the street to find someone, anyone, with a supply for sale, barely noticing that you have now crossed the line into criminal activity.

Finally, with law enforcement crackdowns shrinking the street supply, you —OK, maybe not you, but a whole lot of people like you — turn in desperation to the only available, and relatively cheap, equivalent: Heroin. No joke: Most of the addictive prescription drugs out there are derived from opium, just like heroin. And the drugs are reportedly very similar, except in one major way: Heroin is never, ever legal.

So ironically, the war on prescription drug abuse is turning people who are addicted into people who are arrested. And that may be the biggest crime of all.

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