03/18/2008 12:25 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Wire v. The Media on Drugs II: You're Right, David Simon, We Suck

The Wire's David Simon has posted a fascinating and exasperated cri de coeur -- calling the media and critics to task for failing to note a key point he tried to make in the show's final season. While the Mayor was failing to fix the troubled schools, cops were faking serial killings and drug dealers were getting away with murder -- none of this made it into the fictionalized Baltimore Sun. The mutt didn't bark -- and the watchdogs didn't notice.

Given the amount of real and virtual ink that has been spilled on The Wire, this omission is truly extraordinary. It crushingly illustrates the incredible blind spot the press has developed for the stories all around it that never get told -- and for focusing on trivia whilst ignoring catastrophe.

A small, but sad example is the Baltimore Sun's current crusade for greater regulation of the addiction treatment medication, buprenorphine. In an incredibly slanted series (which I first wrote about here), the Sun narrowed in on a tiny problem while refusing to look at the big picture.

Calling for greater regulation of buprenorphine in the context of lowered budgets for addiction treatment, high levels of opioid overdose and epidemics of HIV and hepatitis C in IV drug users is like swimming furiously for shore in a riptide. Not only is it a waste of energy -- it's actually counter-productive and gets you further from where you want to go.

Research finds that increased access to buprenorphine in the context of widespread availability of heroin and strong opioids like Oxycontin dramatically decreases overdose risk and the spread of blood-borne infections. The fact that some addicts use it on the street is actually a positive: it's less dangerous than heroin, methadone and most prescription opioids that are injected.

But the Sun won't even countenance this possibility -- and of course, public officials have to respond with greater drug control because politics and this kind of reporting -- makes any other option unspeakable.

The press cannot see this because it is so wrapped up in drug war propaganda that it never questions its own assumptions that all drug use is bad and all drugs are equally risky.

Addiction is a massively complex social problem -- but the sad thing is that rather than suggest solutions, the press is busy looking for stories to plug into its prize-seeking formula. And this kind of series, misguided as it is, often does win prizes. You're right, David Simon, we're pathetic!