Is public discourse on drug overdoses improving?

This article today in the Washington Post caught my attention:

Drug overdoses deaths soared to a record 93,000 last year

The death toll jumped by more than 21,000, or nearly 30 percent, from 2019, according to provisional data released by the National Center for Health Statistics, eclipsing the record set that year.

Disturbing news, but what caught my attention was how the article approached this problem. Not once was the notion of harsher enforcement mentioned as a possible solution or need.

Instead, here were some of the reflections in the article:

“Nora Volkow, head of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, said in an interview that fentanyl has so thoroughly infiltrated the illegal drug supply that 70 percent of cocaine overdose deaths and 50 percent of methamphetamine overdose deaths also involved fentanyl. In many cases, she said, users are unaware that their drugs are laced with the powerful painkiller, which can halt breathing even if a minute amount is ingested.” […]

But unlike past years, 2020 brought the added complications of a worldwide viral pandemic. Health-care resources were stretched and redirected toward the emergency. Anti-addiction medication was more difficult to obtain. Stress increased dramatically. Users were more isolated, leading to additional overdoses because other people were not nearby to summon first responders or administer the opioid antidote naloxone, experts said.

“The pandemic has led to increased substance use across the board, as people have sought to manage stress, isolation, boredom, anxiety, depression, unemployment, relationship and child care issues, and housing instability,” Kimberly Sue, medical director of the National Harm Reduction Coalition, an advocacy group that tries to prevent overdose deaths, said in an email.

It’s time for the government to “provide medications for opioid use disorder for everyone who needs them, with no restrictions on cost or availability,” Volkow said.

There was a time when an article like this would be half enforcement-related, with a push for stricter laws and tough cracking down. This really seems like a long-overdue change in the discourse, at least. Recognition that drug illegality results in the more dangerous lacing with fentanyl, and that stress, depression, and instability (etc.) are factors leading to addiction and overdose as opposed to it being a thing you can just arrest your way out of (or “just say no” to).

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