What National Review Gets Wrong About the Opioid Crisis and the War on Drugs
By Shane Smith - November 18, 2017

Alright, libertarians, you wanted drug legalization, right? Well, with opioids, via loose prescriptions, you got it, and what’s happened? We are in the middle of the worst epidemic of overdose and addiction this country has ever seen, thousands are dropping like flies, and it appears that things will be getting worse before they get better. Your theories might sound nice when you don’t have skin in the game, but when reality intrudes on your fantasies of a free society, real people pay the price. Right?

Well, not quite.

The above argument might sound familiar because a variation of it is trotted out during every national crisis. Be it war, financial instability, poverty, during health insurance debates, or any other crisis or threat, a chorus rises to blame supporters of a free society for their juvenile dogmatism that is surely causing the very predicament everyone is suffering under.

“There are no libertarians in financial crises,” gloated mainstream financial analysts during the subprime meltdown, which was caused by “free market fundamentalists”, according to George Soros.

The opioid crisis is no different, but one would have thought the fingers would have pointed at libertarians far earlier. This may be partially due to the fact that support for ending the Drug War occupies a strange grey area between Left and Right. More traditional, law-and-order type conservatives generally support the War on Drugs, as well as the tough-on-crime tactics used to prosecute it, while the Left tends to support ending the Drug War due to its violation of civil liberties.

This has always seemed strange to me since conservatives tend to support more freedom as opposed to less, smaller government as opposed to big, and the Left tends to always and everywhere support greater restriction of liberty for the ostensible benefit of, well, someone, somewhere, and a large, intrusive government to do it. But, during a crisis, regardless of Left or Right, voices will denounce liberty in favor of something more “responsible”. “We don’t have the luxury of being libertarians right now”, say the condescending, adult voices of reason and responsibility.

And so it is with Jonah Goldberg at National Review, who recently authored a piece against the libertarian argument for full drug legalization, essentially stating that an opioid-addicted dystopia would be the inevitable future of a libertarian society, with heroin sold on the shelf right next to Johnny Walker, loaves of bread, and the morning paper.

In Goldberg’s piece, “The Opioid Crisis Should Make Libertarians Rethink the Drug Legalization Argument”, he sees the opioid crisis as an experiment in drug legalization. He then looks at the outcome, mass overdose deaths, then finger wags libertarians for their blind devotion to ideology.

David French had a similar take on the crisis in a piece back in April, “The Opioid Crisis Should Kill the Call to Legalize Hard Drugs”. He sees an opioid crisis and blames “drug libertarianism”.

Forgive me, but the libertarian argument for full legalization is a bit more nuanced than that.

Libertarians understand full well the dangers that hard drugs pose for society at large, but this is the very reason for their support for full legalization. Far from wanting anyone and their children to get their hands on heroin, they understand that drug prohibition itself has been the cause of the widespread use of these hard drugs.

Richard Cowen’s 1986 article, “How the Narcs Created Crack”, illustrates the “Iron Law of Prohibition”, which essentially states that the harder the crackdown on drugs, the harder the drugs become. There was no national conversation about heroin, meth, or crack-cocaine during the late 70s because there was no epidemic associated with these drugs. It was only once a militarized crackdown on marijuana and cocaine really got underway that black market entrepreneurs developed and sold the economic equivalent of bathtub gin that these hard drugs became a problem.

In my home state of Oklahoma, where meth use is rampant, law enforcement effectively eliminated the mom-and-pop labs that produced meth locally. But meth use still increased, and overdoses increased. What explains this? The Mexican drug cartels moved in, bringing their high potency meth, produced south of the border in super labs, and began supplying the demand. Oklahoma law enforcement unwittingly invited the cartels into this state, and are effectively the chief enforcers of their market share.

There is now a push by the Oklahoma AG to treat opioid manufacturers like organized crime through the use of the RICO law, but it only takes just a little imagination to understand that this would only benefit real organized crime.

The solution to the opioid epidemic isn’t to abandon the philosophy of liberty and opt for a renewed Drug War, but to develop a non-opioid based painkiller and make it widely available to patients and addicts. Cannabis appears to be the chief contender for this role, as it has been shown that addicts can be successfully weaned off their deadly poisons through the use of marijuana. And when given the choice, pain patients overwhelmingly prefer marijuana to opioids. So what’s the hold-up?

Prescribing heroin to those most susceptible to addiction, pain sufferers, should be an idea tossed in the dustbin, but the corollary policy doesn’t lie in the simplistic “let’s fight a war!” mindset. Simple-minded prohibition brought us to this precipice, it cannot bring us out. An amped-up, militarized war on prescription opioids will lead to an unprecedented plague of black market heroin, laced with fentanyl, elephant tranquilizers, and God knows what else.

The situation, then, will truly be out of control. The Cartel presence in the U.S. will become massive, and ubiquitous, as black market heroin profits will soar, corrupting law enforcement, the political class, and everyone standing to cash in. The United States will then truly become a Narco State.

Periods of national crisis are the true test of defenders of liberty and are the very times to defend the philosophy of liberty most vigorously, because it’s this philosophy that will lead the way out.

You don’t have to play by the rules of the corrupt politicians, manipulative media, and brainwashed peers.

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  • In a sense the USA already is a narco state as the war on drugs is a complete farce. The drug cartels simply pay to play at every level of the agencies and judicial system to include all police agencies along the way and local, state and fed officials.The corruption is massive at every level.

    The other issue is that we have a vast market here in USA and that market is simply weak or stupid people that have allowed themselves to go down such a destructive road for all manner of bad reasons. Realize nobody ever forced anybody to take up such destructive behavior. It is quite impossible to save anybody from them self. So we are just participating in various illusions and it grows more obvious each day. Bottom line, we are all responsible for our own actions and our own health and well being. We have that in common and not much else. When all is said and done the do gooders are in fact elongated and enabling misery ! Far better for each of us to focus on our own short comings and health and try to live as an example to others and help them to be stronger in an honest and realistic way. All else is just another illusion.–.html

    • NobodysaysBOO

      great post thanks.
      if the customer DIES he will NOT be coming back.
      do the smart thing GO PORTAGESE!!!

  • Don Duncan

    Drug abuse follows a pattern. It starts with mild abuse during a period of no criminalization, no govt. control. Control is achieved by peer pressure, social ostracism and private institutions.

    Then “law & order” criminalizes use, abuse increases along with penalties until both are extremely distructive. Before criminalization their was social order. Society had it under control. After criminalization law created chaos, not order.

    In the late 19th/early 20th century alcohol, opiates, and coca were freely accessable and widly used, without any major problems. After drug laws were passed to eliminate the useage completely, it increased greatly, until it was a problem.

    The problem is govt. laws. Govt. is a decease, selling itself as a cure. No good comes from the initiation of violence, threat thereof, and fraud (govt.).

    A small step toward a civil society would be abolishment of all govt. regulation and laws regulating personal behavior (victimless crimes).

    • snow27

      Hear, hear!

  • lulu

    Drug use is a symptom of a dysfunctional society. No answer to the drug problem will come easily. The legal vs illegal debate is not on target. North American values are not clear. Wealth and asset accumulation marginalize a huge segment of the population. The common good has been forgotten. Many have no attainable goals to improve their lives, the economic system keeps the working class in perpetual debt while the affluence of a few and the flaunting of richness serve to disable the many. Why not Then snort, inject, swallow or inhale a little escape?

  • James

    I can’t believe this narrative is even being seriously considered. It’s a ruse. Read up on the brilliant work by dr. Carl Hart. The short story is that opioids alone rarely cause death. It’s the pairing of them with toxic constituents like acetaminophen that is the culprit.

  • So-called free-market economics leads to results like the opioid epidemic. The entire distribution of Oxycondine and its knock-offs is entirely legal. The marketers built a market and legally protect it at enormous cost because the profits are huge.

    “For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” 1 Tim, 6:10

    The money worshipers own the temple and govern all social exchanges.