A Humanitarian Outlook on the Drug Epidemic

By: Nate Sikora – Staff Writer

According to the Ohio Department of Health, the number of opioid related deaths in Ohio has increased 775 percent from 2003 to 2015. Death rates are increasing faster than county coroner’s offices can handle. For example, Stark County in northeast Ohio is currently facing an overflow of bodies in their county morgue.

In response to the overflow, the state issued the county a cold-storage trailer to aid with the overflow of bodies. Research shows that the rise in reported total deaths are directly linked to opioid related issues, specifically heroin and prescription painkillers. The overall drug epidemic is actually a recent phenomenon in the United States, where it has become an increasingly noticeable problem nationwide in the past decade or so.

Regardless of the illegality of narcotics and other substances, it is objectively clear that our society has an issue with drug abuse. This is no longer a legal issue, but rather, a human issue. United States public policy should stop treating drug abuse as a criminal offense and start treating it as the issue it really is: a health crisis.

Firstly, what often goes unexamined when discussing drug abuse is the emphasis applied to the supply and demand for drugs. The criminality placed on drugs by U.S. law, usually related to what “schedule” a drug is classified as, almost entirely deals with the supply side of drugs: possession and distribution.

The mentality initiated originally by Nixon and exacerbated by Reagan in his “tough on crime” bills, the production and possession of drugs was heavily penalized with the increase in mandatory minimum sentencing. The problem with this system is that it does not acknowledge the demand of drugs.

Within any market, if there is a demand, there will somehow be a supply. In other words, there will be demand for a good or service regardless of the legality of that service. If we take this sentiment as truth, then the war on drugs is entirely flawed.

Since the law targets supply but drags down the demanders with it, law enforcement has created the fallacy that anyone who does drugs is a bad person – what I call the Jeff Sessions mentality. It links the actions of drug cartels and drug dealers directly to the users, but in reality drug users should be distinctly different from the production (supply) side of the equation.

As a result, a negative stigma exists toward drug users. The negative stigma consequently leaks into how we treat addicts, which has been reprehensible at best. Addicts lose their jobs, their family, their friends, and often, their lives. The superficial, bigoted mainstream mentality that drug users are bad people has, effectively, costed hundreds of thousands of lives.

People seldom realize the impact ideas have on real life systems – the war on drugs is the epitome of this happening. It is not until a family member, a friend, or even yourself, is directly affected by this tragic phenomenon do people then become conscious of the real issues at hand.

So instead of people saying “well, if they chose to do drugs, it is their fault” we should be saying “we must help these people end their addiction because of the health and life consequences of drug addiction.” We need to unlink the stigma of drugs from the drug users, for it is not the fault of the user. They must be viewed differently.

Secondly, the pharmaceutical industry has done nothing to subvert the crisis of prescription drug abuse. These companies realize that massive profits result from the production of pills by companies that are well-knowing that the pills are addictive. Therefore, there is a disincentive to stop addiction in the pharmaceutical industry.

It is money over well-being for big pharma. Even worse, once people run through their prescriptions for painkillers – if they are recovering from surgery, etc. – they usually resort to “illegal” methods to feed their addiction. This is why people addicted to prescription painkillers switch to heroin because it is cheaper and more readily available for a similar high.

Political leaders and CEOs alike primarily highlight the drug cartels and “illegal trafficking” that is feeding the drug abuse crisis when in reality this epidemic is caused by people wearing white lab coats or dress suits and ties.
Doctors cannot help themselves either.

Drug companies pay healthcare providers to prescribe their drugs to patients in exchange for extra cash, so overprescribing addictive drugs is incentivized because it now has a profit motive tied to it. For example, the small county of McDowell County in West Virginia, with a population of just over 28,000, received shipments of over 11 million opioid pills in a six year span from large drug companies like McKesson Corp, AmerisourceBergen, and the Ohio-based Cardinal Health.

Do those 28,000 residents really need that many pain pills? The county has subsequently filed a lawsuit against these companies and the physicians involved for “reparations for the economic burden brought on by the opioid epidemic.” McDowell County is not alone, and our national leaders need to wake up and realize that their constituencies are slowly killing themselves.
Our nation is reaching a breaking point in this so called “war on drugs.” Over time, it seems to be morphing into a war on ourselves. More and more people are falling victim to the readily available methods to alter our states of consciousness to deal with the messed up world in which we live.

If looked at from a different perspective, the drug epidemic seems to tell more about our society than it tells about drug users. America needs to check itself in the mirror because, for the time being, most of our nation’s leaders seem complacent with the degradation of their own people.

 

Graphic courtesy of The Washington Post.                                    Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.