PRO/CON: Opioid Crisis
March 20, 2018
PRO: Greater availability leads to greater survivability
To fight fire with fire: An often counterintuitive option, making opiates legal and readily available, may be the most effective solution to America’s growing health crisis.
More Americans died from opioid overdoses than breast cancer in 2016, according to CNN. The legalization of opioids, along with treatment measures, would drastically lessen this number and help end America’s latest health emergency.
With 259 million prescriptions for opiate painkillers written in 2012 alone, according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, it’s no wonder why many people have become addicted. However, once cut off from their supply, these people are left with very little options.
They must either suffer the withdrawal symptoms or turn to the black market for opioids. The stigma against these drug users only makes recovery harder, as revealing their problem comes with social consequences. Only by legalizing these drugs can addicts access help and treatment services without being harshly punished and shamed.
There are already numerous ways to treat addiction using specialized medication and techniques such as opioid substitution therapy and heroin-assisted treatment, but criminalization usually restricts the use of these treatments, which mostly rely on opioid-based substances.
This restriction forces people to resort to non-medicated treatments which are often ineffective and lead to a lesser resistance to opioids, according to STAT, a national health and medication publication. This tolerance loss results in many overdose deaths as people turn to the black market after failed treatment attempts.
Restrictions on the purchase of drugs, while they might lead to reduced use, may result in even more deaths as drug mixing and poisonous formulas become prevalent. With legalization, people could obtain adequate amounts of the drug that they choose, avoiding mixing. However, when left with an insufficient amount of drugs and an inability to obtain more, people are left to improvise by using alcohol and other available substances. This, in conjunction with opioids, leads to lethal combinations, according to an Australian government document.
In countries such as Portugal, Germany and France, policies and laws have been passed attempting to remove the stigma placed on those with addictions. These may include designated drug-use facilities and personal drug possession laws. The policies are steps in the right direction. After decriminalization in Portugal, drug use has declined across all age groups and overdose deaths dropped to only three per one million adults, the second lowest rate in the European Union according to the Drug Policy Alliance. America should look for ways to motivate and allow addiction victims to seek effective treatment for addictions that they may even not have had control over.
Simply prohibiting opioid use would cause more problems than it would solve. A gradual process of acknowledgement and treatment will allow those who need help to seek it out without having to hide and be ashamed of their addiction.
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.