Do Politicians not Understand the Opioid Crisis? Maybe they Don’t Want to.

The U.S. government, the states and many cities keep allotting millions of taxpayer dollars to fight the worsening opioid overdose crisis. Based on news accounts, my informal tally has run well past a billion a year for those programs alone. Still I would not oppose the life saving measures they pay for. The world’s pursuit of prohibition has already killed millions: it would be unthinkable to continue that murderous policy without doing what we can to curtail the carnage. But, do any of our leaders ever discuss ways to change this pathetic picture? If so I’d like to meet them in person. There can’t be more than two or three!

Recently a news commentator solemnly blathered there is no simple solution and suggested millions more must be spent on training doctors and distributing medicines to save lives from overdose. And that seems to be the mindset of politicians all over the country. Yes, those measures are needed under current policy, but when does Congress get serious about developing a real policy based solution?

Our leaders do not seem to grasp that the opioid crisis is a product of their own work. Surely they are not that stupid. Maybe they just relish a bit too well the power of taking taxpayer money and distributing it where it will do the most for their power-based careers.

Most of the money being thrown at the problem is for naloxone to reverse overdose. At least Michael Botticelli, director of National Drug Control Policy, recognized that  “simply reviving people isn’t enough to turn the tide of this epidemic.” But, he has never said anything to suggest he has any idea how to eliminate the source of the problem–our laws against drugs.

If adults were allowed to use heroin, pain pills, opium, morphine, and fentanyl in a legal system dispensing them, with controls to prevent leakage into the hands of minors, we could end the crisis in a near nano-second. But, ignorance or venality reign and so we continue to watch in dismay as young people by the many tens of thousands each year fall into the addiction trap–ushered into it by the illegal drug dealers and gangs that make heroin and opioids available to them.

A talk show host I sometimes enjoy yesterday exhibited the typical ignorance. He was harshly critical of safe injection sites of the kind being proposed in California. Think what you will, prohibitionists, about the frequent foolishness of California politics, but safe injection sites are an intelligent partial solution at this moment. Wherever tried they have reduced crime, disease and death in the territory adjacent. The radioman suggests they “enable” addiction. No they don’t.  They enable addicts to be in close contact with professional nurses who not only prevent their deaths, but encourage them to envision the contrast between the life they are living and the far better possibilities.

The host went on to advise his audience that opioid addicts are people who decided to commit a felony for pleasure seeking and deserve to be treated the way we treat any criminal. He seems to think the problem exists among adults who tried heroin for fun and got hooked. But, that view of opioid use and addiction accounts for, well, maybe ten percent of it–at the very most. As I have repeated often in these blog posts, CASA has shown that only 1 in 10 addicts got that way after starting use over age 18. Ninety percent of addiction starts among the 12 to 17 age group. And as NIDA’s Director Volkow points out, addiction only occurs to those who have a psychic vulnerability.  Do we really want to treat troubled teenagers, who are self-medicating with pain pills, heroin or both, as felons?

The opioid deaths are happening among people who do not properly self-administer their drug and people who are getting fentanyl laced heroin in dangerous doses. Most of these deaths result from combining alcohol or other drugs with the opioid according to drug scientist Carl Hart. In a use tolerant system, opioid overdose and death would become a rarity as people learned how to use responsibly and safely. Defaulting the drug market to the gangs and illegal dealers, as prohibition automatically does, puts drugs in the hands of minors, and promotes addiction in that age group. Reversing that mistake is the “simple solution” to our government made crisis. Unfortunately, our leaders seem to prefer playing with tax dollars.

For a tiny fraction of the taxpayer money we spend trying to save lives from the effects of our own policy, we could change that policy to one in which drug users are taught how not to kill themselves–while closing the adolescent addiction factory.

© All rights reserved to Dave Finch 5/24/2017

For more information on how this could work, visit the Reform Drug Policy Project.

 

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