Heroin: Treat the addicted; shrink the demand

If you haven’t noticed, the world has changed in a dangerous way.

The price of heroin has followed all the rules of basic economics of supply and demand. The supply has increased to meet an unfortunate spike in demand, and the price has made this dangerous narcotic “affordable.”

Affordable, that is, in price per hit, but not when one considers the price in human suffering, societal damage and lost potential.

Affordable until one considers how pervasive the drug has become, when a symbol of American childhood, a fast-food child’s meal with a toy, can become a vehicle for the drug trade, as alleged in the Pittsburgh area.

Affordable until one considers deaths from high-powered heroin, more than 20 in recent weeks in the Pittsburgh area.

High-profile deaths such as talented actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s call the drug into sharp focus.

Anyone is vulnerable. From Cleveland to New York to Pittsburgh to the streets of our local communities, the drug is available and doing its damage. It’s not just the “gritty industrial heartland” that’s vulnerable, either. Seemingly idyllic Vermont has been declared so badgered by heroin that the governor there dedicated much of his State of the State address this year to the heroin epidemic.

He cited the fears everyone should have, including the growth of the drug problem from prescription painkillers to a “full-blown heroin crisis.”

There is a cost in illnesses, overdoses, deaths, accidents and lost time for employers. There is a cost in thefts, broken families and relationships and violence. And there is a cost in treatment and redemption for those who try to fight the habit.

The reasons for heroin’s rise are many, but it’s as much a result of the ongoing prescription painkiller problem as it is from a people living without hope, or without caring for themselves or others enough to avoid the needle.

The solution remains, unfortunately, in trying to curtail the market and treat the addicted.

And, unlike the situation with marijuana, where the market appears poised to declare prohibition as ineffective as it was with alcohol, there is no medical study showing heroin has a benefit to any human life.

It is a scourge that destroys.