Drug Addiction News

GUEST VIEW: Hurt discount methods work for drug use, too – Meridian Star

The COVID-19 pandemic has devastated our nation and the world. Our citizens reacted with social distancing, wearing masks, seeking protection at home and disinfecting our hands. With these measures, we try to reduce the damage in order to save lives. Although the strategies look different, the concept of harm reduction is also valuable for another health problem – drug use.

In 2017, more than 45,000 people died from an opioid overdose. This year my son Robert was one of them. He was a precious young man, loved by many and full of promises. For each of the 128 people who continue to die from a national opioid overdose every day, a broken family, friends and community remains. Our collective response has been to impose stricter criminal sanctions to strengthen our path to eliminating drug use. Imposing tougher penalties didn't work. The war on drugs didn't work.

According to the Mississippi Department of Justice, 20% of people in Mississippi prisons are there for non-violent drug offenses. That is almost 4,000 people. Alternative measures have to be implemented. An analysis published in 2018 in several states showed that longer drug prison sentences do not lower the rate of drug use, arrests, or overdose deaths. Severe punishments do not work.

Important steps were taken to implement health-oriented strategies instead, such as the distribution of the opioid overdose drug naloxone. Drug-assisted treatment such as Suboxone has also become a strong option in the treatment of opioid addiction due to the higher rate of long-term fasting outcomes and the lower death rate in people who use it. These are ways to reduce damage and save lives.

But we can do more. When I first heard about syringe exchange programs that give people who inject drugs access to clean syringes, I was shocked and extremely skeptical. Then I started studying this concept and learned that people who take part in these programs are treated five times more for their addiction than people who don't. They bring people who use drugs into contact with healthcare providers. Mississippi is currently prohibiting syringe exchange programs, but we can change our laws to allow them, as our conservative neighbors in Florida did last year.

In his New York Times bestseller Chasing The Scream, Johann Hari says: The first and last days of the war on drugs: "You and the people you love are just stains on a much larger screen. If you stay where you are – focusing only on the shape of your own little spots, this year like last year and the year before – you will never understand more than now. But what if you found a way to step back and look at the entire painting? “When I stepped back after Robert's death and looked at the entire painting of drug use, I saw that the war on drugs could not and will not stop the problem. When people are jailed for drug use, the addiction cycle continues by adding to their shame and separation. Destroying life doesn't save lives.

Ten percent of Americans will experience drug addiction during their lifetime, according to the National Institutes of Health. Unfortunately, that could be your neighbor, your friend and even your loved one. Addiction is not a moral failure or a weakness. It is a complex health problem. Since the death of my son, I've started to see people in recovery who have had addiction, and I listened to their stories. Like most of us, their stories were about the joys and sorrows of life and the twists and turns that their lives had taken when they made their best and worst decisions. I realized that they were people who were very similar to me, and their stories give me hope.

May we have the strength and the courage to maintain the respect and dignity of everyone. And when we look at the big picture beyond our tiny spots, using damage mitigation strategies for our addiction health crisis is the brave, humane response.

Lee Malouf is an advocate of health-oriented responses to drug use. She lives in Ridgeland and can be reached at missyazoo@aol.com.

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