The Public Interest

The problem of heroin

I. David Wheat , James Q. Wilson & Mark H. Moore

Fall 1972

IT is now widely believed that much of the recent increase in predatory crime is the result of heroin addicts supporting their habits; that heroin use has become a middleclass white as well as lower-class black phenomenon of alarming proportions; and that conventional law-enforcement efforts to reduce heroin use have not only failed but may in fact be contributing to the problem by increasing the cost of the drug for the user, leading thereby to the commission of even more crimes and the corruption of even more police officers. These generally held opinions have led to an intense debate over new policy initiatives to deal with heroin, an argument usually described as one between the advocates of a “Law enforcement” policy (which includes shutting off opium supplies in Turkey and heroin-manufacturing laboratories in France, arresting more heroin dealers in the United States, and the use of civil commitment procedures, detoxification centers, and methadone maintenance programs) and the partisans of a “decriminalization” policy (which includes legalization of the use or possession of heroin, at least for adults, and the distribution of heroin to addicts at low cost, or zero cost, through government-controlled clinics).

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