Pubdate: Thu, 20 Jan 2005
Source: Salem News (MA)
Copyright: 2005 Essex County Newspapers
Author: Robert Merkin


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 

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
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