Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The war hits home

So… a childhood friend of mine has been arrested. For the sake of his privacy, let's call him E.

We met in early childhood because our mothers were friends. He lived a good distance away, but we managed to see each other on a reasonably frequent basis. E had a troubled childhood, raised by a single mother after the family was abandoned by his abusive father. Still, he endured, but unfortunately we drifted apart in high school. This semester, he finally achieved his goal of enrolling in college.

I recently discovered that E has been arrested for heroin possession. You see E suffered a serious shoulder injury from an athletic mishap that left him in continuous pain. Thanks to our hard-working men in law enforcement, doctors are often unwilling to prescribe adequate painkillers for victims of chronic pain because they fear, with good reason based on past precedent, that doing so leaves them in danger of being charged with drug trafficking. (Radley Balko has chronicled this extensively.)

So, with his lawful options cut off and no other source of relief in sight, E eventually resorted to heroin, until he got caught not long ago. I suppose going after a scrawny accident victim with a chronic injury is safer and easier than catching people who might actually be dangerous. Fortunately, the minute amount he was caught in possession of does not rise to the level of a felony in the state of Illinois, so he won't be spending a significant amount of time in prison. He did, however, have to drop out of college, which he had just begun attending. Unless he's willing to risk a much harsher punishment for a second offense, he'll have to go back to living in needless pain. All for trying to relieve his suffering in the only way left to him by the government's monstrous policies on prescription painkillers.

I've been opposed to drug laws for some nine years now. (Thanks to National Review, surprisingly enough. I've been following politics long enough to remember the days when that magazine actually had some worthwhile material.) I opposed them on purely utilitarian grounds at first, then on more principled grounds as I began to shift from conservative to libertarian. I have abhorred the drug war ever since, and mourned the innocents who have suffered because of it, but in a dry and abstract sort of way. E's fate is far less harsh than many drug war victims; he will not spend years of his life in prison or die like Peter McWilliams because he couldn't get the medicine he needs. Still, the petty cruelty on display in his case struck me in a deep way. Though I had no doubt that prohibition was cruel and unjust, it took a personal experience to really hammer home just how damn vile the drug war really is.

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