Tuesday, June 06, 2017

The crisis in American narcotics.

As some of you may have become aware from articles like this one, the US is suffering a massive drug use pandemic. While the situation has yet to reach the opium epidemic levels seen in Manchu China, a tipping point of sorts has been reached inside rural America.

The roots of this American epidemic can be traced to revisions made in FDA guidelines regarding pain medication. The explosion of medically prescribed Oxycontin usage in "middle America" led to significant shift in the dynamics of illicit narcotics. Given how much Oxy was freely available, the traffickers had to up their volumes to keep margins up. After 2001 the bulk of anti-narcotics resources were diverted to the war on terror. With the eviction  of the Taliban, poppy cultivation in AFG boomed. The result was a free fall in opiate prices on the streets of the United States.

As the price of narcotics are interlinked by economic forces, this in turn brought down the effective price of cocaine and methamphetamine. As expected this kind of pricing pressure leads to shifts in product formulation and quality and that is feeding the trend towards Fentanyl and other synthetic cocktails.

The prime targets of this opioid epidemic are in "soldier belt" of America - places like Kentucky, Appalachia and so on which contribute the sizable numbers of Scott Irish, German Polish and Italian men that fill in the lower ranks of the Army. Most of this epidemic can probably be traced to war fatigue and self-medication of PTSD but that is story for another day.

The prices are low right now which is going to increase the number of addicts. As one has a larger number of addicts around, the number of people suffering from ODs will rise proportionally. Additionally the pressure to keep the cost per hit down will lead to more quality control issues and one will see more adulteration of product. This adulteration factor is likely to lead to a spike in medical complications and death.

Given the imprecise nature of backyard chemistry, the likelihood of an over loading a Fentanyl laced pill is quite high. Given how many addicts there are the likelihood of some idiot leaving a pill in a public space (park, mall, street, whatever...) is extremely high. While the dosage in such a pill may not be sufficient to harm an adult, it will most likely kill a small child.

The normal approach to this would be to constrict the flow of product, i.e. increase enforcement and drive the street price up. Doing this at this time will lead to a major degradation for the following reasons

1) As seen in black urban ghettos of the North East, increasing enforcement simply puts more strain on scarce policing resources. It was still possible to dump enough policemen on the geographically small urban ghettos filled with poor black people, but it will not be possible to do that on all of rural America.

2) Increasing the price of narcotics causes unpredictable fluctuations in the pricing regime, this causes addicts to commit more crimes which in turn draws on the law enforcement system even scarcer crime prevention resources. Given that we are talking about policing the rural parts of the US, the resources required would be catastrophically large given the massive land area we are talking about.

3) A "Drug War" like this leaves a lot of carnage in its wake. Families are ripped apart, lives are shattered and the reign of terror outlives the crisis itself.

A better way has to be found.


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