Opioid epidemic in Utah

In Utah, and across the nation, we have seen the rise of an opioid epidemic that continues to explode exponentially. It is a topic we have been uncomfortable discussing, but is clearly an issue that must be discussed.

There have been a few legislators locally and nationally who have tackled the opioid epidemic head on. We applaud their efforts – and recognize that there is much more that needs to be done.

In some ways America’s approach to the opioid problem is similar to the famous poem written by Joseph Malin in 1895 titled, “The Ambulance Down in the Valley.” You remember the story of the tiny town, which boasted of a mountain lookout with magnificent views of the valley. While the scenes were spectacular, the cliff was unacceptably dangerous. Many local citizens and passing visitors alike had tragically fallen from the cliff to the valley below.

Some of the citizens in the town advocated for putting a fence around the cliff, but others more persuasively made the case for simply parking an ambulance down below in the valley.

“For the cliff is all right, if you’re careful,” they said,

“And, if folks even slip and are dropping,

It isn’t the slipping that hurts them so much

As the shock down below when they’re stopping.”

So day after day, as these mishaps occurred,

Quick forth would these rescuers sally;

To pick up the victims who fell off the cliff,

With their ambulance down in the valley.

So, the citizens relied on the ambulance to deal with the ever-present and potentially lethal problem.

Then an old sage remarked: “It is a marvel to me

That people give far more attention

To repairing results than to stopping the cause,

When they’d much better aim at prevention.

Let us stop at its source all this mischief,” cried he,

“Come neighbors and friends, let us rally;

If the cliffs we will fence we might almost dispense

With the ambulance down in the valley.”

As it relates to our opioid cliff, we have added many new tools to the ambulance down in the valley, including vital overdose-reversing injections, needle exchanges, and counseling and rehabilitation programs for those who have become addicted. Unfortunately, we have done far too little to build the fence at the top of the cliff. It is time for a fence-building discussion between families, churches, legislators, doctors, health care providers and drug companies.

The opioid cliff is but one ledge where we would be wise to focus more on fence-building instead of ambulance production. Many of our state and federal programs designed to deal with poverty, homelessness, long-term unemployment, health care and hunger have spawned fleets of ambulances parked in the valley of government assistance.

As James Malin concluded, “To rescue the fallen is good, but ’tis best

To prevent other people from falling.”

We must get better at building fences in our communities, and when appropriate through government. In areas where we lack effective solutions, it is usually because we avoided the uncomfortable conversation.

For Sutherland Institute, this is Boyd Matheson. Thanks for engaging – because principle matters.

This post is an edited transcript of Principle Matters, a weekly radio commentary broadcast on several radio stations across the country. The podcast can be found below.

Receive this broadcast each week directly via iTunes by clicking here

The push for pot

MarijuanaThe following post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations.

When Colorado and Washington voters approved ballot initiatives last November to legalize the use and possession of up to an ounce of marijuana, freedom lost a step. Nine days after the votes, the stock of just one medical marijuana vendor shot from three dollars up to $215. Today, experienced entrepreneurs are anxious for these pot markets to expand.

In 1975 I was a senior in high school living in northern Virginia just outside of Washington, D.C. The mid-’70s was the height of the pot craze just before the more troubling cocaine boom in the ’80s.

I know what pot is because I used it. I know what pot culture is because I lived it. I just shake my head when I hear people say that there’s nothing wrong with marijuana – and then try to contrast its adverse effects against those of liquor or certain prescription drugs. But here’s the problem with that thinking: It’s insular, it’s juvenile, and it’s dysfunctional. It’s like homosexual activists justifying “gay parenting” or “gay adoption” by arguing that their parental results are at least as good as the worst examples among heterosexuals. True, I could drive my car while stoned when I couldn’t while drunk, but that contrast is no justification for me to drive my car while stoned.

Read more

Pot supporters want to diminish human excellence

Voters in Colorado, Oregon and Washington will soon decide whether marijuana will be legalized in their states. More and more conservative and libertarian politicians are getting behind the movement to legalize pot. Anti-immigration stalwart Tom Tancredo from Colorado and libertarians Ron Paul and Gary Johnson are high on that list (pun intended).

Tancredo asks, “What is the law against marijuana if it isn’t the nanny state telling you what you can do and what you can’t do to your body and with your body?” I know there are many opinions and perspectives that pro-pot people would cite to make a compelling argument. But I think Tancredo’s question just about sums up the whole debate, including why society feels it’s important to “legislate morality.”

Let me remind my conservative and libertarian friends that the whole purpose of law is to legislate morality. The whole intellectual and logical framework of law is to address the everyday realities when two or more humans interact and what is best for people as human beings and best for them when they interact. That’s the purpose of law and it’s all based in morality. Read more

Drug legalization and ‘victimless crimes’


Before I’m willing to sit down and discuss innovative ways we can reform the criminalization of drugs (and any related alcohol issues in Utah), I need to make clear a fundamental perspective about human action and free will that, I think, divides many of us on these issues of “victimless crimes.”

I simply don’t believe in “victimless crimes.” And here’s why.

There are both transitive and intransitive aspects to human action. If I punch you in the face, clearly there is a transitive result – you feel the pain of my hitting you in the face. There also is an intransitive aspect to that action – my choice to hit you in the face leaves a mark on me, on my character.  Read more

Hanging out with the ‘legalize it’ crowd

“I’m surprised you’re here … actually, I’m shocked,” was the candid response when I bumped into David Nott, president of the Reason Foundation, last week at the International Drug Policy Reform Conference in Los Angeles. (Actually, it was at another meeting a few weeks earlier, hosted by Reason and run by Mr. Nott, where I got the idea to attend the drug reform conference.) So there we stood. “This is not your typical crowd,” he said politely with crushing heaps of understatement.

To give you an idea of how atypical this meeting was for me, it was sponsored by the American Civil Liberties Union, NORML (the legalize marijuana crowd), Marijuana Policy Project, Open Society Foundations (i.e., George Soros) and Students for Sensible Drug Policy, among others. The primary host was the Drug Policy Alliance, a coordinating organization with a gravitational pull to legalize everything and anything drug related. Read more

Sundance Film Festival brings much more than money to Utah — and you may not like it


The Sundance Film Festival brings a lot of economic activity to Utah, but is the festival something the state should endorse using tax dollars and legislation?

A recent report estimates that the 2011 Sundance Film Festival produced $70.9 million in economic activity for the state of Utah. What the report didn’t mention is everything else the acclaimed festival brings to the state – things that are inimical to the values of the vast majority of Utahns.

For example, most people likely wouldn’t describe the Sundance Film Festival as a family-friendly affair. In the past three years, of the 23 award-winning Sundance films the MPAA has rated, two have received PG ratings, nine PG-13, and twelve R.

This year’s festival presented at least 12 films with nude scenes; seven horror flicks replete with profanity, violence, gore, sex and nudity; and 19 films with gay or lesbian themes, including one that features “the [romantic] adventures of lesbian space aliens on the planet Earth.” Read more

Is this really a $40 million problem?

The Salt Lake Tribune reported yesterday that Salt Lake County is considering building a “‘community corrections center’ designed to help convicted wrongdoers who wrestle with drug addictions or mental health problems break free from their criminal past,” a kind of jail/halfway house hybrid.

Salt Lake County Jail Housing

The need sounds dire. According to the Tribune article, Salt Lake County’s criminal-justice consultant asks, “Do we simply allow them back into the community and wait for them to fail, sometimes in a spectacular way, or do we try to guide their re-entry? This is changing the paradigm of punishment.”

District Attorney Sim Gill adds, “We are missing that middle piece. What they need is to be meaningfully engaged in treatment. For those who are willing to engage, let’s get them out of [the jail] and support them therapeutically.”

The potential cost to taxpayers? $40 million. Interestingly, $25 million of that would go for a Criminal Justice Services Division office building, while only $4.5 million would actually be used to construct the 250-bed corrections center.

Two questions: First, what’s the purpose for that $25 million office building? How is it tied to “therapeutic” support? And second, is this type of corrections facility even needed? Is the drug abuse problem in Utah a growing problem? Read more

Want to fix illegal immigration? Fix ourselves first

During Utah’s immigration debate this year, some people argued that tightening controls on America’s southern border and strictly enforcing immigration laws in Utah would solve our problems associated with illegal immigration. In a fascinating article in the newest edition of the Claremont Review of Books, Angelo M. Codevilla makes a strong counterargument that attempting to control the border is “an illusory surrogate for upholding the rule of law and good citizenship.”

Photo credit: Tomas Castelazo

Codevilla asserts that in order to truly fix illegal immigration we first need to fix ourselves – by taking citizenship more seriously, dismantling the entitlement mentality of the welfare state, reviving the rule of law in our modern administrative state, and eliminating America’s drug culture. In other words, we are as responsible for our immigration problems as anyone else, and controlling the border and strictly enforcing immigration laws are not a panacea for those problems.

You can read an excerpt of Mr. Codevilla’s article below.

Why do so many Americans demand further militarization of the Mexican border when such militarization cannot protect us from terrorism or criminals, does nothing to stop the flow of drugs, turns good labor-seekers into bad imitations of immigrants, and turns a friendly neighboring state into an unfriendly one? So-called border security is attractive because it lets Americans imagine that someone other than ourselves is responsible for several of the country’s biggest problems, and that the U.S. government can deal with them in a value-free, politically neutral manner. Read more