“STOP THE PROBLEM AT THE SOURCE”
It’s no secret that the US has committed itself to a war on drugs. But the opioid epidemic in the US is far from over; in fact, it may have entered its deadliest phase yet.
Fentanyl is one of the newest opiate drugs to hit the streets and it’s one of the most dangerous opiates ever. Many observers have suggested there needs to be a “tough on crime” stance, including President Donald Trump, but is more criminalization the solution? This article explores the aspects of criminalizing opiate drugs and opioid crisis solutions.
Prohibition Creates New Drugs
In most industries, innovation is great; it makes things better for the consumer and increases the value of the company for stakeholders. Unfortunately, when the illicit drug trade innovates, it’s almost always bad for society.
When the prohibition of a certain substance is effective, it doesn’t reduce the strain that drug placed on society; quite often, it makes things worse.
If a drug is hard for illicit suppliers to come by, the demand for that drug goes up, and some dealers come up with innovative methods to cater to demand. For one example of this, we can look at the emergence of mephedrone in the United Kingdom.
Mephedrone in the UK
Mephedrone is a cathinone drug that has similar effects to MDMA and amphetamine. In 2010, there was somewhat of an MDMA shortage in the UK and many of the pills in circulation contained little, or if any, MDMA.
In that year, mephedrone started to circulate among clubbers and drug users. The drug offered a similar experience to MDMA but had one major advantage: it was completely legal and could be bought online. When faced with not being able to get MDMA, people were happy to switch to an alternative.
Unfortunately, mephedrone was a novel and unprecedented substance. It hadn’t been tested on humans before.
It turned out the drug had some undesirable side effects. It caused extreme vasoconstriction, meaning a lot of users suffered from numbness in their limbs and had difficulty breathing. None of these dangers were present in the drugs mephedrone had replaced.
In banning MDMA, the government created a market for a new and untested substance.
Problems in the US
We also see this kind of thing in the USA. When faced with the unavailability of more “traditional” drugs, people are willing to turn to newer alternatives.
For example, there have been many problems with so-called “bath salts” in the US. These drugs were packaged as bath salts in order to circumvent the law.
With no regulation as to what could be in these packages, bath salts could refer to a wide variety of substances. Often, the packages contained some kind of cathinone such as mephedrone or methylone, but a wide variety of different compounds were found when these products were analyzed. This created a dangerous situation where nobody knew what they were taking.
In certain communities, this caused a lot of problems. For instance, it caused a lot of issues for emergency departments in hospitals.
Someone coming in having overdosed on “bath salts” would be difficult to treat. The staff has no idea what the substance actually was and neither does the person who took it.
Bath salts also led to a lot of extreme antisocial and violent behavior from users who unwittingly took a heavy dose. Lawyers across the country know all about clients who’ve gone to the jail from taking unknown substances.
Prohibition Won’t Stop Addicts
This principle applies to opiate users as well. Let’s say someone’s addicted to Vicodin. If their supply is stopped, there’s a fairly high chance they’ll turn to some other solution.
Typically, for prescription opiate users, they’ll turn to street opiates such as heroin or fentanyl. Did you know that as many as 80% of heroin users started off by using prescription drugs?
Many people take the following journey when getting addicted to heroin: first, they get prescribed a strong painkiller such as Vicodin for a painful injury. After a few weeks of taking the pills, they realize they aren’t having as much of an effect. They might up the dose to get the same feeling and then they might even progress to crushing pills and snorting them.
At this point, they’ll start to run out of pills and they might turn to steal from friends. When they go to their doctor for more pills, the doctor might refuse.
Gateway to Addiction
In the search for more pills, they might come across someone who offers them heroin. Heroin is much cheaper than acquiring prescription meds and the high is very strong, so they’ll probably choose to do heroin from now on.
Heroin is already illegal, but most opiate addicts end up using it eventually; it’s quite clear that banning a substance isn’t going to stop people from using it. If a particular substance becomes too hard to get, people will turn to alternatives.
Often, these alternatives are much more dangerous; they might be novel, untested drugs, or they might be much more potent. The US prison system can’t even keep illegal drugs from getting inside their walls.
The Danger of Fentanyl
The issue of fentanyl is a perfect example of a harmful innovation in the drug trade. Fentanyl is manufactured in China thanks to lax regulations on the pharmaceutical industry there. This means it’s often easier for dealers to get hold of than traditional heroin.
Because of this, a number of dealers have started selling fentanyl instead of heroin. Unfortunately, fentanyl is much more dangerous than heroin; the threshold for overdose is significantly lower and it’s killing more people than heroin would have. Were it not for the demand caused by the prohibition of heroin, the fentanyl crisis would probably never have happened.
Legalization May Be Key
The logic might sound counterintuitive, but providing addicts with legal heroin could actually save lives. Idealists might suggest that if we can cut off an addict’s supply to a drug, they’ll stop using it. But time and time again, this is proven not to be the case.
Not only is prohibition dangerous to the lives of addicts, but it can also cause problems in the local community. When a new “designer drug” such as bath salts or fentanyl emerges, there’s a lot of pressure placed on the local community. An ambulance might not make it to your house in time because they’re out treating the sixth fentanyl overdose of the evening.
Addicts also tie up the legal system, leaving it less able to handle other problems. Whether or not you’re an addict, prohibition affects everybody in the community.
Don’t Create Addicts
To truly address the opiate crisis, people need to be stopped from getting addicted in the first place. Once someone becomes addicted to opiates, they’re going to do what they can to get their high, whether the substance is legal to possess or not.
The best way to solve the problem is to address the issue of addiction. How are these addicts becoming addicted to opiates?
Often, it’s because they were prescribed a heavy painkiller such as Vicodin or oxycodone. These drugs should be prescribed less and when they’re dispensed, people should be fully informed about what the risks are.
Many people ignorantly assume that a drug is safe because their doctor prescribed it and by the time they realize the truth, it’s too late for them. Doctors need to be held accountable for prescribing strong opiate medications.
Just Say No?
The way the subject of drugs is taught in schools also needs to be reevaluated. The “just say no” approach to drugs doesn’t seem to be working.
Many people who went through the DARE program found that softer drugs such as cannabis had been completely misrepresented by the program. This could lead to them thinking the DARE program has misrepresented everything, leading them to take risks with highly addictive drugs such as opiates.
Preventing someone from becoming an addict starts in the early stages of their development, but it’s clear scare tactics are not all that effective. Instead, we should try to educate our children using a more balanced and honest approach.
The Best Opioid Crisis Solutions
To properly address the opioid crisis in America, it makes sense to try and stop the problem at the source. Not by cracking down on the suppliers, but by stopping people from becoming addicts and creating the demand.
Medical professionals need to be held accountable and the prescription of opiate-based drugs needs to be restricted. When they’re prescribed, people need to be properly educated about the risks.
Many of the hardest opiates such as fentanyl and heroin have been prohibited for years, but that hasn’t done much to stop all the deaths in the community. It’s time for positive change to be made regarding opioid crisis solutions.
Want to read more about drugs? Then check out this article.