“I miss my sister desperately.”
Thus began a letter from a stranger. This is not unusual. How long ago reviewer advisor and the author memoir of addiction, people often turn to you.
The distinguishing feature of this letter was that the stranger wanted to know if I remembered her sister or what her sister had written to me a few months earlier. She explained that her sister recommended my book to her mom to explain what she had to go through. Their mom wanted to thank me for helping her understand and making her daughter feel like she was being seen.
She also told me that her sister had recently died of an overdose.
A buzz of sadness and memories swept through me as I scanned my private messages for her sister’s message. I found this. She told me that she was struggling, that she was so ashamed that she was trying to get help. She thanked me for writing the book. She said that I gave her hope. We exchanged a few messages and a month later she died.
When I read our messages back and forth, I felt overwhelmed. I didn’t know her, but I knew her pain. It could have been me. Identifier overdose when I was in the years of active addiction. My friend’s saving breath saved me. If it weren’t for her, I would be dead.
That was 23 years ago. I can’t count how many friends I’ve lost since then to addiction, let alone people like this young woman who reached out but failed.
And the numbers are accelerating.
V Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Center for Health Statistics just released preliminary data showing over 100,000 drug overdose deaths from April 2020 to April 2021. Let that number fall: 100,000 deaths.
The point is, these deaths are preventable. Our drug policy is killing people.
I was hopeful seeing the Biden administration move towards harm reduction. Health and Human Services Minister Xavier Becerra said in a recent statement. interview that HHS will support clean needle exchange programs and fentanyl test strips.
This is a significant step forward, but it is a matter of concern that the Biden administration has appointed Rahul Gupta as the new director of the National Drug Control Policy Office. This is the guy who played a key role in shutting down the largest needle exchange program in West Virginia and backed legislation that would effectively end all harm reduction programs in West Virginia. All this time, the state has seen a boom in HIV outbreaks and drug overdose deaths. After being sworn in last week, Gupta appears to be changing his stance, saying: interview with NPR“I believe what we are doing right now is to keep improving and increasing the number of harm reduction practices that have clear evidence.”
This is encouraging. However, in the meantime, the Drug Enforcement Administration is imposing fines on pharmacies for dispensing Suboxone and Subutex, drugs used for drug treatment, the treatment protocol has been proven to double the chances of a person being hospitalized. long term recovery and reduce the risk of overdose by 50%…
People who need pain relievers are denied prescriptions and deprived of a safe regulated supply, so some go to the illegal market to get rid of the pain. Over the past five years since focus on punishing Big Pharma, opioid prescriptions have dropped by more than 40%. Deaths from drug overdose, in the vast majority of cases caused by opioids, have doubled. There is a direct correlation.
Yes, and naloxone, a simple and cost-effective way to reverse overdose, is in short supply and has increased in value… Before the pandemic, harm reduction groups bought generic naloxone for about $ 2.50 per unit. Now, if they can get it, it costs $ 37. The Narcan brand is worth $ 75.
When we restrict prescriptions, penalize and retaliate against health care providers and pharmacies, what do we do? We exacerbate the problem even further.
First of all, and I will shout about this until my death, we need to convey to us the idea that drug addiction is a public health problem. This is not a moral flaw.
Again. Addiction is a public health problem. This is not a moral flaw.
What do we do about other public health problems? We use fact-based decisions. We do not put people in jails.
What works is harm reduction. Because people cannot get well if they are dead. Because people need an impartial path to recovery. It’s about healthcare, not about empowerment.
What works is decriminalization. We must divert funds used to imprison people in non-profit detention centers and invest in health instead.
What works is treating addicts as people. Harsh love rarely helps. Connecting people to communities, providing them with health care and stable housing – it works.
Early intervention works in the form of free and preventive mental health services, especially among young people. Imagine the difference we could make by spending dollars on taxes to provide young people with the tools and help they need to thrive.
I was 8 years old when I first took opiates, an expired pain reliever that I found in our medicine cabinet labeled “May cause drowsiness.” I was depressed, suicidal, and desperate to get out of my feelings. I started using heroin at age 13 and have been fighting addiction for over 15 years. I needed psychiatric help. What I don’t need is “Just say no.”
The United States has spent over a trillion dollars on the “war on drugs.” And look where we are. What have we achieved? We have pushed people away from getting legal, regulated pain relievers into the illegal drug market, where the supply is unregulated and flooded with fentanyl. We have achieved massive racially motivated detention.
By 2022, the US is expected to spend $ 41 billion in drug addiction treatment and prevention (if Congress approves funding). And for this massive imprisonment, every fifth imprisoned for a drug-related offense, we spend $ 182 billion yearly.
Our drug policy has failed and people are dying at an ever-increasing rate. We must focus on what needs to be done to save lives. We must take care of people’s health, not wage war.
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