(WGHP) — Colin Miller has seen some stuff.

“I’ve lost a whole lot of people in my life — loved ones, family members, close friends — to overdose and to drug-related homicides,” Miller said.

He has also faced homelessness.

But that’s what’s driven him to work with substance abusers to help them find a better way. Although he strongly counsels everyone he works with to not do drugs, he knows there will always be some who will do it, anyway.

“It makes it easy for people when we can say, ‘This bad. This good … but it’s not that simple,” Miller said.

He believes we will have to come to some sort of legalization and medicalization of mind-altering substances at some point.  He says history shows that simply demonizing it not only doesn’t keep people from using those things, it also brings plenty of its own bad stuff with it.

“All those things during prohibition. We looked at and we decided as a society all these cons that have come out of the prohibition of alcohol are not as bad as the cons that we see from having it be an illegal substance that people can imbibe as they choose,” Miller said. “The intention of all these laws and putting people in jail for drug crimes and such is based on this idea that if the punishment is large enough or is severe enough, it will deter people from using drugs in the first place … We can look at the data over the course of American history … especially since the War on Drugs was officially declared in the ‘70s by Nixon. We can look at that data and see that criminal justice approach has had absolutely no positive effect on drug use, on the type of substances we’re seeing, on the number of people we’re seeing using drugs. What it has done is throw a whole lot of people into prison.”

Erin Tracy says Xylazine is “the current hot topic” as she shows us into her lab at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Tracy is a chemist there who analyzes samples of street drugs so that we know what’s currently in them.

“I come from crime labs which are overworked and underfunded,” she said. “It’s what the DEA does. We can … (analyze samples) in less than a week. This analysis is independent of law enforcement.”

Xylazine is a legal horse tranquilizer that is showing up in street drugs all over America.

“A lot of our programs that we work with are really interested to see whether or not Xylazine is in the local community supply because it’s a non-controlled substance. It’s not necessarily popping up within law enforcement. It would be similar to how lidocaine and benzocaine wouldn’t necessarily pop up,” she said.

The idea is: If we know what’s in the drugs on the street, we can at least treat people for it more efficiently.

“In a perfect world, we’d have a safe supply where people would know what they’re ingesting,” she said. “You know what’s in a liquor bottle when you go to an ABC store. You know if you’re getting gin. You know if you’re getting whiskey.”

Miller believes Xylazine is showing up as a substitute for fentanyl, which the US government has moved to ban both the production and importation of over the last several years.

“The cartels … have plenty of money to hire chemists … They can hire the same type of chemists that we would see working alongside me at the university or anywhere … They can hire chemists to figure out another way to synthesize,” Miller said.

I asked Miller about whether being non-judgmental about drug use could lead people to think it’s not really dangerous.

“When we’re talking about something like a moral hazard or looking at drug use as a moral hazard rather than a legitimate illness or a physiological condition that people have … The direction that we’re coming from is not based in any of the research or any of what we’ve learned over the years about substance use disorders,” he said. “I think that we’ve been looking at certain substances for a very long time with this sort of puritanical lens, which is part of the American experience.”

See more on this subject in this edition of The Buckley Report.