The Denome’s Advocate: How to Solve the Opioid Crisis

For the last few months, drugs have been an underlying issue in politics; one that always seems to be making the news, but rarely drawing the full attention of America. The ongoing opioid crisis or Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ campaign against marijuana have both been more and more prevalent recently, yet neither of these issues seems to be making front-page headlines.

Even with the huge debacle involving the nation’s health care system, things like medical marijuana or addiction treatments rarely get more attention than a senator promising their constituents that some kind of reform will come. Vague statements like that are even less likely to bear the fruit of change, considering that it doesn’t look like any kind of major health care reform is going to be getting to the president’s desk any time soon.

However, even if no legislation is being written to catch up to it, the opioid crisis is still continuing to grip America. Upwards of 30,000 Americans died opioid-related deaths last year, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

All this was punctuated by another mid-level news story from this week. A ten-year-old in Miami was revealed to have overdosed on the opioid fentanyl and died last month, making him one of the youngest people to die in the current epidemic. All evidence shows that the death was likely because the boy accidently came in contact with the drugs at a local pool.

Unfortunately, this is becoming the new reality in America. Even if it’s by accident, people are dying preventable deaths due to factors that the government can, and must, intervene upon.

To gain a bit of background, opioids are drugs such as morphine and Oxycontin that are mainly prescribed as pain relief to patients of surgery. Over the last couple decades, opioid prescriptions have steadily risen before finally dropping slightly in 2015, according to the New York Times.

Part of the reason for this rise in prescriptions stems from former President George Bush and his prescription drug program that attempted to make opioid prescription drugs more affordable. The addictive effects and affordability of over-the-counter drugs led to a surge in use of first legal opioids, such as Oxycontin, before an addicted population began to turn to illicit narcotics, like meth and heroin, of which a withdrawal or overdose from either can be lethal.

And thus, a crisis bloomed and suddenly, opioid addiction is one of the foremost medical problems in America, one that has evaded a solution for years.

There are various different ways to attack the problem, but one of the most radical ideas for a solution could be the most effective. Rather than punishing illegal drug users with jail time, why not legalize and rehabilitate them? Take back what I said about that being a radical idea; that seems like common sense.

And in another weird twist, the best way to help those addicted to drugs might well be to encourage them to take them in moderate doses. That’s where a reform is needed. Rather than forcing addicted persons to shoot up on heroin in a dark alley, where an overdose is a distinct possibility, maybe we should borrow an idea from Europe and create safe places where addicts can take drugs under the watch of nurses, with access to anti-overdose pills, such as Naloxone.

Of course, if you’re creating safe spaces for drug users, ideally you want to reduce the number of those addicted to opioids as well. Thus, we also need to begin seriously educating about illegal drugs, rather than spewing anti-drug propaganda, as Sessions wants to do more of. The Attorney General has talked of bringing back the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program, which proved ineffective, considering that the opioid crisis sprang up right under it’s nose.

And obviously, all this needs actual health care reform backing it, not another Medicaid cut. Thus, such a system is unlikely to become realized with a single-payer, Medicaid-for-all health care system, something increasingly unlikely to happen. As House Speaker Paul Ryan claimed, single-payer “isn’t right” for America right now.

However, I’d like to challenge the speaker on this count. Look around the country, Mr. Speaker. Look at all the people suffering. Look at who wouldn’t have health care had your bill passed. Look at who would be most in danger of dying if they had lost their coverage.

Look at that. Look at the opioid crisis. Look at what needs to happen for the country to recover. Then look me in the eye and tell me that a system where everyone is guaranteed coverage isn’t right for America.

You can’t. It’s become clear that all the right cares about when it comes to health care is tax breaks for the few and suffering for the many. It’s something that continues to baffle me, why we can’t come together and agree that everyone who is suffering, from the poor and destitute to the addicted, deserves the basic human right of health care.

The Denome’s Advocate is a weekly political column with a liberal slant

Follow Thomas Denome on Twitter at @thomas_denome

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