Cops Issued Weapons Of Harm Reduction, Not War, In Quincy, MA

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I have had the privilege to present alongside the illustrious Judge Jim Gray many times  in the last several years. When he speaks, he uses the acronym PNWAWA R&C (Prohibition Never Works as Well as Regulation and Control) as a solution to managing America’s national drug policy. In his recent article, Judge Gray captures some of the inevitable failures of drug prohibition:

Judge Jim Gray, former candidate for Vice President of the United States in the 2012 election with running mate Gary Johnson

Judge Jim Gray, former Libertarian candidate for Vice President of the United States in the 2012 election with running mate Gary Johnson

“When we prohibit a substance, we give up all of our controls completely. All of the critically important things in the sale of potentially dangerous and addictive drugs, such as quantity, quality, place of sale, price, licensing and age restrictions, are abandoned to groups like Mexican drug cartels, juvenile street gangs and other thugs… ”

Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) consists of current, former and retired criminal justice professionals. We are cops, judges, prosecutors and other law enforcement officials whose existence can be directly attributed to the ongoing failures of the War on Drugs. Our mission states our goal is “to reduce the multitude of harmful consequences resulting from fighting the War on Drugs and to lessen the incidence of death, disease, crime and addiction by ending drug prohibition.”

There are many opinions as to what regulatory model to implement in a post-prohibition world even among LEAP members, but the common belief we all share is that we need to end drug prohibition. One of the ways that we can help end the Drug War is through the implementation of harm reduction strategies that place drug addiction under a public health model.

So what does  “harm reduction” mean?  The Drug Policy Alliance (whom I personally believe to be the leading drug policy reform organization) defines harm reduction as:

“A public health philosophy and intervention that seeks to reduce the harms associated with drug use and ineffective drug policies.”

LEAP has long recognized there are significant harms directly attributed to the policy of prohibition. In a free society we can never achieve the drug-free vision that prohibitionists preach. From a health perspective, our unbalanced enforcement policy has contributed to addiction, overdose, death and the spread of HIV/AIDS.

In spite of our 40-plus years fighting the un-winnable War on Drugs, and the trillion dollars spent to increase the cost of drugs by reducing supply, Americans have access to drugs that are cheaper, more potent and just as available as when the Drug War started. We have also ignored the many social justice costs of this damaging policy, which include a broken criminal justice system, shattered families, increased poverty and an erosion of our civil liberties.

“In spite of our 40-plus years  fighting the un-winnable War on Drugs, and the trillion dollars spent to increase the cost of drugs by reducing supply, Americans have access to drugs that are cheaper, more potent and just as available as when the Drug War started”

There are many reasons why our government clings to a failed policy. One of the primary ones is that we have policies in place that are based on politics, not on evidenced-based practices. But, we are starting to make progress and law enforcement is starting to take notice.

This CBS video report features the perfect example of a harm reduction policy. It reveals that the use of Narcan, an opiate anti-overdose drug, by a Quincy, Massachusetts Police Department has saved 170 lives in the 179 times it’s been used. The QPD mandates officers be trained and carry Narcan as part of their issued equipment. In the video, the narcotics detective featured explains the decision to use Narcan with some words I’ve uttered myself in defense of legalization and harm reduction: “We cannot arrest our way out of this epidemic.”

Narcan, the Quincy, MA Police Department's newest harm reduction tool.

Narcan, the Quincy, MA Police Department’s newest harm reduction tool.

QPD made a conscious choice to increase public safety by thinking outside the Drug War paradigm. By embracing one of the pillars of an effective drug policy, they have placed the needs of their community above politics and rhetoric, and have clearly shown that smart policing can be based on science and compassion.

So the next time we read about law enforcement grants that fund new SWAT vans or weapons, isn’t it time we demand the federal government issue more tools of harm reduction rather than weapons of deadly force to our cops? Clearly the success of the Quincy Police Department in saving lives in an unconventional manner shows that implementing harm reduction is a failure of politics not of money.