Let’s Make EVERYTHING Illegal

Red symbol crossing out the entire Earth, symbolizing a ban on everything

Red symbol crossing out the entire Earth, symbolizing a ban on everything
Last week, a group of community leaders from Forsyth County came together for a roundtable session with State Attorney General Josh Stein to discuss the problem of opioid deaths. The meeting was triggered by the release of a report from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, which showed a rise in opioid deaths throughout much of the Piedmont, between the years 2005 and 2015. During that time, deaths resulting from opioid overdoses rose from 13 to 53 in Forsyth, and from 27 to 47 in Guilford.

Meanwhile, Governor Cooper announced he was “committed to combatting opioid abuse”, and that includes passing HB 243. Known as “The STOP Act”, the bill will put new restrictions on doctors who prescribe and dispense opioid drugs, and will also limit public supply. The North Carolina Hospital Association must believe HB 243 will pass, because it just recommended that all emergency departments start using non-opioids to treat pain.

If all this sounds familiar, that’s because when he was Attorney General, Roy Cooper waged war on decongestants, saying that criminals were extracting ingredients in Sudafed and using them in the manufacture of meth. Cooper’s grandstanding has resulted in innocent citizens being treated like terrorists every time we try to purchase meds for a sinus headache.

Just as with the war on decongestants, the war on opioids is an example of what I like to call cosmetic or deflection politics. It makes for good headlines and generates lots of goodwill, but it mainly serves to deflect public attention away from the fact that our elected officials aren’t doing much of anything to address more widespread problems. Childhood hunger, unchecked healthcare premiums, corporate pollution, and the flow of illegal drugs into our state, are all complex problems that are not easily solved, and sometimes never addressed. On the other hand, a war on legal painkillers can be superficially waged by quickly enacting a few laws and guidelines, so that the public believes something has been accomplished.

The sad truth is that restricting or prohibiting the use of legal painkillers will do nothing to prevent either access or abuse. The 18th Amendment should have taught us that. When alcohol was banned during Prohibition, the flow of spirits never abated, it just flowed under the radar at speakeasies and in back alleys. Likewise today, marijuana, heroin, cocaine, and meth are all illegal, yet Americans are still using and abusing them in record numbers.

Is it tragic that some people die from abusing painkillers? Absolutely. Should we step up our efforts to educate the public about the dangers of such abuse? Absolutely. But you can’t legislate abuse any more than you can legislate morals. Passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act did not end racism, and passage of new restrictions on legal painkillers will not end opioid abuse. If we ignore that fact, then we might as well ban all products or substances which can cause death when misused. One example is caffeine.

Last week while Stein and Cooper were grandstanding, a 16-year-old South Carolina boy died after drinking too much caffeine. In the course of two hours, the youth had consumed a large Mountain Dew, a cafe latte from McDonald’s, and an energy drink. The combination caused him to have a fatal heart attack. The incident was unfortunate, but the young man chose to drink large quantities of caffeine, and we are not our brother’s keeper. Still, I suppose Mr. Stein’s solution would be to make all soft drinks and coffee illegal.

Each year, over 200 people die from food allergies. Perhaps, then, Mr. Cooper will put restrictions on the use of peanuts, milk, and shellfish.

And let’s not forget demon rum. According to the CDC, approximately 90,000 people die each year because of alcohol. Some of those deaths are from binge drinking, and some from liver damage. But many alcohol related deaths are the result of a drunk driving incident. If the Governor wants to wage war on something, why not start by making cars and whiskey illegal?

Or perhaps we should begin our Prohibition with handguns. According to the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, each year nearly 20,000 people commit suicide with a gun. That compares to 11,000 people who are killed by others with a gun. In other words, people take their own life with a gun more often than they get murdered with a gun. No problem, we’ll just make all guns illegal.

And how about passing a law to protect us from eating donuts? Each year over 75,000 people die from diabetes, and many more than that are killed by heart attack and stroke due to clogged arteries. Abusing donuts, therefore, can lead to an early death. So can using tobacco products. Each year over 200,000 people die from COPD alone, a disease caused by smoking. But alas, I haven’t heard any Forsyth County officials declare war on Winston cigarettes or Krispy Kreme donuts. I wonder why that is?

The fact is that selective prohibition is inconsistent, hypocritical, and rarely successful. The war on illegal drugs has failed, so why should we expect a different outcome from a war on legal drugs? Just make something hard to get, and watch how fast consumers will still manage to get it anyway. Again, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t allocate funds for prevention, education, and treatment. It just means we have to stop kidding ourselves by waging politically cosmetic wars that only serve to punish innocent people who legitimately need or want the product that is being restricted.

Otherwise, let’s just go ahead and make EVERYTHING illegal. I miss my donuts already.


One Comment

  1. Comment by James Johnson:

    Another example of liberal “feel-goodism”. Doesn’t really accomplish anything but sure makes those who participate feel good about themselves.

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