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01 February 2005

We got trouble! Right here in River City!

A response to:


Thursday 20 January 2005
The Salem (Massachusetts) News


To the Editor:

If heroin is the life-and-death crisis Alan Burke describes in the Jan. 10 story headlined, "Fighting for their lives," it is odd -- bizarre, in fact -- that he mentions only law enforcement officials and institutions as sources and saviors for this public health problem, and seems to take no notice of the community's doctors, nurses, pharmacists, health professionals and their institutions.

Burke briefly mentions the unexpected client growth at a Peabody methadone clinic. Massachusetts district attorneys and U.S. attorneys in New England have a long, consistent and hostile history of opposing methadone maintenance, needle exchanges and nonprescription syringe sales, promising for the last decade that law enforcement will reduce or eliminate the region's heroin problem entirely with expanded budgets for police, prosecutors and prisons. The surprise doubling of demand at the Peabody clinic is just one of many increasingly obvious clues that the police / prosecutor / prison heroin cure doesn't work. The fundamental problem that Burke's story misses is that heroin addiction is a public health and medical phenomenon. And he failed to ask any health professionals about it.

When a parent suspects a child is involved with drugs, the parent does not phone 911 or the Essex County district attorney. The parent phones the family doctor, who has training, experience and links to a network of professional experts. Yet Burke's story suggests that, as a community, we should ignore that instinct and call the cops instead. And yet law enforcement, with its total lack of professional training in medicine or public health, and its annual Beacon Hill shopping lists of harsher and harsher punishments for drug use, has presided over the steady growth of opiate and cocaine addiction, and the exponential growth of the blood-borne diseases associated with needle drug use, HIV/AIDS and hepatitis.

The war on drugs has shut out the cures and treatments for drugs, and has "educated" the media and the public to distrust physicians and health professionals.

There are strategies that work to reduce drug use in the community. Ten years ago, the prestigious RAND Corp. concluded that one dollar spent on medical resources has the same effect on lowering drug use as $7 spent on law enforcement. Your story essentially agrees with the DAs and urges the $7 anti-cure. So where are the health professionals in this health crisis, and why isn't the newspaper asking them what they know and what we should be doing to reduce the threat of heroin in our community?

Robert Merkin
Northampton MA


Blogger SteveHeath said...

It's not such a bad deal, as long as I can call my doctors and health care professionals to protect me next time someone is breaking into my house, or next time someone steals My Stuff.

Isn't cross-training among professionals a good, efficient 21st century management tool?

ruefully from Clearwater



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