CON: Decreasing the circulation of dangerous substances

For many in the U.S., painkillers do not just take minor aches away—they take more than 115 American lives each day from overdoses, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Following president Donald Trump’s declaration of the opioid crisis as a health emergency, many have been lobbying for full legalization or decriminalization of opioids. While the government needs to find a solution to narcotics abuse, legalization is not it.

Legalizing opioids will only cause more deaths than the current system does. Some argue that when reputable firms produce and sell drugs, fewer people are killed from tainted samples or cartel-related murders, which would probably be true. As the need for a black market to sell drugs disappears, so does the need for sellers and drug lords.

Yet, proponents of this argument ignore the fact that legalizing drugs makes them more available to everyone. The inherent danger associated with buying narcotics off the black market is enough to prevent many from doing so. The entire opioid crisis began because those in charge failed to consider the effects of making opioids readily available.

By promoting pain as “the fifth vital sign” in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the U.S. government set off a chain reaction. As doctors became more worried that pain was not being sufficiently treated, they prescribed more painkillers, which led to more cases of opioid overdoses.

Instead, we need to redefine what pain is in order to better treat it, without the use of potent drugs.

The first step is to remove it as a vital sign, an indicator of general physical health. The other vital signs, blood pressure, heart rate, respiratory rate and temperature, can all be quantified, while pain cannot be. There is no way to compare pain levels objectively, and as such pain should not be treated as a vital sign.

Reducing the number of opioid prescriptions will have a twofold effect. First, patients will have reduced access to strong narcotics. Second, these hard drugs are will be less prevalent in communities as a whole. According to Robert VerBrugge, a deputy editor of the National Review, a large number of addicts get their painkillers not from doctors, but from patients who are prescribed narcotics. According to Vox writer German Lopez, communities across the U.S. have been awash with strong opioids, allowing even those who aren’t prescribed painkillers easy access to hard drugs.

In addition, the government needs to crack down on opioid sales. By both redefining pain and reducing the amount of narcotics sold, the government would be limiting public access to opioids, thereby reducing addiction and overdose cases.

Finally, the government needs to invest more into addiction treatment centers. By recognizing that addiction is what drives many to turn to a life of crime and raising awareness about the root cause, it can save thousands of lives.

The government must do more to treat current addiction cases, in addition to preventing future ones, and legalization is not the catch-all solution many may believe it to be.