Several of the candidates in Friday night’s debate pushed back against a fearmongering debate question about the opioid overdose crisis, but they couldn’t avoid the chance to bash Big Pharma.
Moderator Monica Hernandez started off the questioning by turning to former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who has officially taken the position that all drugs should be decriminalized. Hernandez asked him if all drugs included heroin and meth.
Buttigieg dodged the question by saying that “incarceration should no longer be the response for the possession of drugs.” This can be read as support for decriminalization of drug possession, despite his insistence that it is not. “These kinds of addictions are a medical issue, not a moral failure,” he added.
The most charitable interpretation of Buttigieg’s response is that he doesn’t want to prosecute users but is willing to go after drug dealers (despite the fact that many people who sell drugs also use drugs, and often sell drugs in order to use drugs).
Buttigieg certainly wanted to make it clear he didn’t support legalization.
Hernandez then turned to Andrew Yang to note that he has also said he doesn’t want to incarcerate drug users, but would instead make drug treatment mandatory (a policy that often leads to incarceration when users relapse or fail to comply with other court-ordered requirements).
Yang blamed greedy pharmaceutical companies for the opioid crisis and said that part of his response as president would be taking these companies on. He also called for safe injection and safe consumption facilities, which are places where people can use drugs under observation by trained health professionals who can help them if they overdose.
Former prosecutor Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D–Minn.), after deflecting a question about her history of prosecuting drug cases, said that America could fund opioid addiction treatment with a settlement she believes the federal government will be getting from opioid manufacturers.
Former Vice President Joe Biden said he wants to put pharmaceutical executives in jail as a response to the overdose crisis.
How about we just stop looking for reasons to put people in jail? As Reason‘s Jacob Sullum has carefully documented, there’s little evidence that medical access to opioids is driving the overdose crisis. It’s government intervention in trying to seize control over pain treatment that is driving people to the black market, where they purchase drugs of unknown content and potency, which more often than not contain dangerous amounts of fentanyl.
It’s great that these candidates are reluctant to call for jailing drug users, but they don’t seem to have thought too hard about drug prohibition beyond that point.