There is a heroin epidemic in the United States, so we are told. And it is not just urban junkies who are addicted. Heroin has become readily available in suburban and rural areas.
Diacetylmorphine or diamorphine results from the combining of morphine (an opioid derived from the opium poppy) with acetic anhydride. Opium poppies are cultivated in four primary areas of the world: South America, Southeast and Southwest Asia, and Mexico. Afghanistan produces the majority of the world’s opium supply, while Mexico is the world’s second largest producer.
English chemist Charles R.A. Wright (1844–1894) first synthesized diamorphine in 1874. The German pharmaceutical company Bayer marketed the concoction as an analgesic, a cough suppressant, and a nonaddictive substitute for morphine from 1898 to 1910 under the trade name Heroin. Production ceased when its addictive properties were discovered.
Although heroin has a medical use as a strong pain medication, it is more commonly used recreationally because of the intense euphoria it produces. In addition to being injected, heroin can also be sniffed or smoked. Fatal overdoes can result from the suppression of breathing.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Lethal heroin overdoses nearly quadrupled between 2000 and 2013 in the U.S., escalating from 0.7 to 2.7 deaths per 100,000 during this timeframe.” According to the National Institute on Drug Use, “In 2011, 4.2 million Americans aged 12 or older (or 1.6 percent) had used heroin at least once in their lives. It is estimated that about 23 percent of individuals who use heroin become dependent on it.”
Many users of prescription opioids such as Oxycontin turn to heroin when their prescriptions run out because heroin can be easier to obtain and less expensive than purchasing Oxycontin on the black market. The demonization by the federal government of marijuana, which can offer nontoxic pain relief, is certainly part of the problem. The federal government classifies marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance (like heroin, LSD, and ecstasy) having a “high potential for abuse” and “no accepted medical use.”
Mirroring what already exists in some cities in Europe and Canada, some U.S. cities have proposed instituting “safe zones” to combat the rising tide of fatal heroin overdoes. Svante Myrick, the mayor of Ithaca, New York, has proposed a supervised heroin injection facility — staffed by trained medical professionals who could respond to overdoses — to get addicts off the street and into treatment. He recently spoke with NPR’s Here and Now about “The Ithaca Plan: A Public Health and Safety Approach to Drugs and Drug Policy.”
The mayor envisions “a fairly small, discreet place, somewhere that fits into the fabric of the city. Something you would never know was there, unless you were looking for it.” He sees treatment as the goal, but explains that “we have to keep people alive until we can get them the medicated treatment, the detox, rehab, and counseling that they need to actually get healthy. If they’re shooting up in gas station bathrooms and on the streets or huddled behind dumpsters, they’re never going to get those resources because they’re never going to have access to medical professionals.”
But regardless of how bad the heroin epidemic is, and regardless of how successful a “safe zone” would be in curbing deaths from heroin overdoses, city-operated safe zones are illegitimate and unnecessary.
Safe zones are illegitimate not only because it is not a proper role of government to provide a “safe zone” for people to use drugs, but also because it is not a proper role of government to prevent drug addiction or treat drug addicts. That is the job of family, friends, acquaintances, co-workers, physicians, psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, hospitals, treatment centers, treatment programs, religion, and ministers. Private organizations and individuals, not government programs and bureaucrats, are the solution to any personal or societal problems stemming from drug abuse. And, of course, it is not a proper function of government to criminalize the possession of drugs and lock up drug users, thus necessitating people to seek out safe places to conduct commerce and partake of drugs.
Safe zones are unnecessary because every home ought to be a safe zone. Every home should be a safe zone for any activity as long as it is peaceful, voluntary, consensual activity that does not aggress against the person or property of others. And by extension, any piece of property that one owns or has permission to use — whether for any activity or for just certain ones — ought to be a safe zone.
That is because everyone should be free from government interference to live his own life any way he desires, pursue his own happiness, assess risk and make his own choices, engage in any economic activity for his profit, and spend the fruits of his labor as he sees fit. And that is true even if one’s choices are deemed by others as harmful, unhealthy, unsafe, immoral, unwise, stupid, destructive, or irresponsible.
In a free society, what people do in the privacy of their own homes is their right as long as their actions don’t infringe upon the rights of others. In a free society, people have the right to practice bad habits, partake in addictive activities, and exercise poor judgment. People have the right to undertake dangerous actions, engage in self-destructive behavior, and take unnecessary risks. And people also have the right to participate in immoral activities, commit sin, and carry out vice — including the use and abuse of drugs.
So every home should be a safe place to use or abuse drugs just as every home is now a safe place to use or abuse alcohol. And not just use drugs. Right now it is illegal throughout the United States to use one’s home to grow marijuana and manufacture other drugs. There are some exceptions, of course, but only when it comes to marijuana. The states of Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington have legalized the recreational use of marijuana, and twenty other states and the District of Columbia have legalized the medical use of marijuana. But there are numerous restrictions on just how much pot one is legally allowed to grow, possess, and sell.
And whether we like it or not, every home should also be a safe place to gamble or engage in sex for money — activities that currently might lead to arrest and imprisonment.
That doesn’t mean that any of those actions is good, wholesome, moral, or right, but in a free society what you do in your own home is your business, not the government’s business and not your neighbor’s business.
And it is not just that a safe zone is needed for protection when engaging in questionable or immoral activities. In many parts of the United States, one cannot have a garage sale without a permit, cut hair without a license, own a particular gun, or resell a ticket for more than its face value. The number of gallons of beer one can brew at home is also restricted by state and federal laws, and none of it can be sold.
It used to be said that a man’s home was his castle. Now there is no longer any such thing as the privacy of one’s home. If our homes aren’t safe zones from government agents and bureaucrats, then there are no safe zones.