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Chuck Schumer’s War on Heroin: Solution or Cash Cow?

The senior senator from New York has called for increased funds for supply reduction tactics that have been the hallmark of the failed war on drugs.

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By Paul Gaita

06/12/14

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Democratic Senator Charles Schumer of New York recently made headlines by requesting an emergency influx of $100 million in federal anti-drug trafficking funding to combat the booming heroin trade in his home state.

According to the senator, the number of heroin seizures this year in New York City is the highest since 1991, and thus warrants the influx of funding as part of the FY 2015 Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Appropriation bill which is up for consideration in the coming weeks. The money would be largely allocated to studying the drug trafficking patterns that have emerged in New York, as well as to help develop strategies between federal agencies like the Department of Justice and local law enforcement for building stronger cases against dealers.

However, an editorial by Forbes contributor Jacob Sullum noted that “supply reduction” like Schumer’s proposal have had little effect in the war on drugs. Seizures, arrests, and other efforts to physically control the drug trade have failed because these strategies address small, individualized amounts that are easily recouped by the sheer size and amount of product for sale in the drug market. Intercepting shipments or putting dealers behind bars generates not only minor losses, but also greater incentive for sellers to find a way around these measures.

Drug traffickers have also kept their businesses profitable by lowering prices and increasing the degree of purity for their product, which has attracted users who have turned away from prescription opioids in the wake of law enforcement efforts to make these drugs harder to find. Sullum concluded that supply reduction efforts such as these are ultimately a catalyst for the heroin epidemic that has spurred Schumer to action; by reducing access to prescription medication through the threat of legal punishment, the government has driven users to the heroin trade, where access is easier and supply is cheaper, but also more dangerous.

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