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.