There’s no doubt that the heroin crisis has boiled over in New York and many other places. According to government statistics, accidental deaths are now more common from opioid overdose than from either vehicle crashes or guns.Clearly, something must be done to combat this growing wave of deaths.
The major problem is that there is a clearly-defined pathway to heroin addiction: Legal pharmaceutical drugs. As a result of pain from surgeries or auto accidents or some other reason, a physician routinely prescribes drugs to a patient. Patients then become addicted to these drugs, and find that heroin offers a cheaper and–although still illegal under federal law–easier to obtain solution.
Heroin users make bad choices
As long as heroin is illegal under federal law, possession of the drug–any amount at all–remains a crime. And heroin addicts will continue engaging in risky behaviors, including the use of tainted syringes, in order to get their much-needed fixes. If the drugs themselves don’t kill the addicts, the tainted needles might.
A town in New York has made a proposal to treat heroin addiction from a health perspective, rather than a criminal one. Under the proposal, a designated safe site would be established, where addicts would receive clean needles and a place to inject themselves, with trained medical staff and an opioid overdose antidote at the ready, if necessary.
Something needs to be done
In order for this to become a reality, both state and federal law would need to be suspended, or else anyone involved with the facility would be putting themselves in legal jeopardy. Law enforcement would essentially need to look the other way, while heroin users feed their addictions. And there’s no indication that users would step out of the shadows, in order to avail themselves of such a facility.
The chances of this safe site coming to fruition are virtually none. But it marks an admission, of sorts, that something needs to give. The ongoing criminalization of heroin, like any other drug, drives its users into taking risks that often don’t turn out well. A paradigm shift, toward addressing the unwise risks that heroin users routinely take, must not be taken as a suggestion that the drug should be made legal.
Without action, heroin deaths will continue
The trend lines for opioid use cannot continue as they have been over the past decade. The instances of overdose–whether fatal or not–reflect an explosion of heroin use, as the drug remains cheap and readily available in some places. The threat of arrest and incarceration, as serious as they are, have not diminished society’s appetite for the drug, as seen in emergency rooms and morgues across the state.
What heroin addicts need, more than anything else, is help with conquering their addiction. When a well-known musician was rushed to a hospital in Illinois days before his death, he was given a “save shot” to counteract the effects of opioids. No legal judgments were made, only an attempt to save a life that was in jeopardy.
Providing a safe setting for heroin addicts is similar, in some ways, to a societal “save shot.” Desperate times call for desperate measures, which is where we are regarding opioids and heroin use in society.
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