Tuesday, March 09, 2004
The Making of an Epidemic
Three people were recently arrested in Seabrook, NH for heroin possession and distribution. Sergeant Ellen Arciri of the Seabrook Police Department was quoted as saying "It's [heroin use in Seabrook] of epidemic proportions". The people arrested only had at most $600 worth of heroin on them, which hardly seems like an indication of an "epidemic" to me, so I decided to look into recent heroin-related stories about Seabrook.
News stories abound with various law enforcement and community figures exclaiming that there is a "heroin epidemic" in the town of Seabrook! Yet, according to the Portsmouth Herald, in one story at least, "none of the law-enforcement officials interviewed nor the Hampton District Court had figures on the number of users or even the number of recent [heroin] arrests."
Similarly, a recent news story talks about the growing number of heroin addicts in the state of New Hampshire, and Seabrook's efforts to curb the problem. Although the piece is filled with terrible tales of addiction, there are no figures to back up claims that heroin use is actually on the rise in these communities.
It seems like we haven't matured beyond the days when "Reefer Madness" gripped the country with fear and all it took to gain support for your viewpoint was to scare the crap out of people. Is heroin good for you? No, but neither is causing hysteria over a problem that may or may not exist. Reasoned, objective analysis of addiction and use rates of a substance is essential to planning responsible public policy. I don't think you should be able to just throw around a word like "epidemic", which implies certain policy responses, unless you have more than just a few scary anecdotes and a $10 bag of white powder to back you up.