Drug Policy Alliance: Preventing Overdose, Treating Addiction, Educating Young People

Brooke died on May 8th, 2012. When you lose a child to drug overdose, to anything, it’s all you can think about. On a daily basis you relive it. Substance use disorder is just like many other chronic diseases. It’s relapsing and remitting, and we want to make sure that people can stay safe until they find recovery, because nobody can recover if they’re dead. Why is it that decades after Nancy Reagan urged kids to “just say no” to drugs, demand is just as high as ever, and why is it that after the US has spent trillions of dollars pursuing this fruitless war on drugs, We still have so many people dying? An overdose prevention center is a place where people are able to bring drugs and use them on-site. So the idea is that you have supervising staff that are able to respond in case anything adverse happens like an overdose. It becomes a place where somebody can go interact with the staff to have some dignity, and to learn how to take better care of themselves. And then after the fourth, eighth, 100th visit, whatever it is, now they’re willing to talk to a social worker and they’re able to get people to treatment that wouldn’t otherwise. The data that’s come out of Insite in Canada and throughout the world shows that there’s either a reduction in crime or no change in crime in the surrounding areas. Studies have shown that it does reduce hospital readmissions and overall healthcare costs for people using that center. And there’s been millions of injections, and millions of drug doses worldwide throughout all of these centers and there has been zero overdose deaths. If people are able to come to a place where they don’t have fear of criminality, judgement, danger, and they can come and get the help they need, and we can potentially save people’s lives? Why wouldn’t we do that? Our focus on punishment, disproportionately impacting communities of color, black and brown people, is the wrong way to go. We need to focus on treatment and rehabilitation and education, because there are no waiting lists for jail, but there are for treatment, and that’s when people die. The lack of honest drug education in the U.S. is another driver of the overdose crisis. People don’t know, for example, that opioids are far deadlier when you mix them with alcohol or Xanax, and people also don’t know that fentanyl is now cropping up in heroin and meth, into illegal Adderall supplies. And what people don’t know can kill them. Abstinence-only drug education programs like D.A.R.E. have done nothing to keep young people safe. Safety First is a curriculum that’s based in harm reduction and science, and it’s taught by health teachers, not police officers. Honest, health-based drug education saves lives. In the past 15 years, I’ve lost so many friends. A substance use disorder shouldn’t be a death sentence, and for far too many people in our country it is. And that’s got to stop. If we’re outraged about the deaths, we have to do something about it. The only way the overdose crisis ends is if people like you and me fight to end it. We need a new approach, grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights.

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