Some opioid questions that demand answers

If we are ever going to make headway in dealing with Ohio’s worsening opioid crisis, we need to start asking the following important and long-neglected questions.

Why do we shut down “pill mill” pain doctors who we think are over-prescribing opioid drugs without making any effort to transition their patients to appropriate treatment in an orderly, humane way? Why are we so surprised when these desperate people, blindsided by the sudden loss of their doctor and facing imminent withdrawal, turn to illegal street drugs, like heroin and fentanyl, and then show up in emergency rooms and morgues? Can we really not connect these dots?

Why do we continue to resist syringe exchange programs when study after study has shown that they reduce the spread of HIV, hepatitis and other infectious diseases without increasing drug use?

Why do we block access to the highly effective anti-addiction drugs methadone and suboxone through unnecessarily onerous restrictions and lack of funding?

Why don’t we use the kind of heroin-assisted treatment programs that have worked so well in Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark and the United Kingdom?

Why do we shun the safe, supervised drug injection sites that other countries use to prevent overdose deaths, minimize public drug use and reduce the dangers of discarded syringes? Why can’t we see, as other countries have, how these sites can serve as gateways to treatment and a better, sober life for even the most hard-to-reach opioid users?

Why aren’t we expanding our successful use of the anti-overdose drug Naloxone by making it less expensive and more widely available to at-risk individuals, their families and friends?

Why don’t we offer free, community-based drug checking services that would not only save lives, but also would provide health authorities with real-time information on local drug trends?

Why do we persist in thinking that we can reduce opioid drug use by imposing harsh criminal penalties? When and where has this ever worked? Why are we so afraid of decriminalizing drug use when Portugal has shown so clearly how decriminalization improves health, restores lives, reduces drug-related crime, saves money, and allows law enforcement to focus on preventing and solving real crimes?

Why do so many of us continue to believe that doing these things would somehow “send the wrong message” about drug use? Do we really think it’s better to continue letting drug users spread disease and die when we have the proven means to prevent it? What sort of message does that send? Is this really who we want to be? Really?

Why isn’t the news media asking these questions? Why isn’t there more news coverage of how these practical, health-centered strategies are successfully combating the many harms associated with opioid addiction?

Why do nearly all of our leaders, and even many of our so-called experts, refuse even to consider these questions?

Most importantly, why aren’t we – all of us – asking these questions? How many more people have to suffer and die before we start demanding answers?

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Michael R. Uth is a board member with the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio.

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