The war on drugs has only exacerbated the opioid crisis in America. Opioid addiction is a medical issue, not a criminal one. While this illness can affect anyone, addiction has a strong correlation with poverty, family dysfunction and psychological issues, so most opioid addicts seek opioids as a refuge. It is not exposure to pain meds that necessarily causes addiction, but rather it is the lack of family support, weak social bonds, and poor economic opportunities that often serve as catalysts to addiction.
My strategy of “local problems, local solutions” will allow local community nonprofits that specialize in psychological counseling and substance abuse to provide the essential treatment addicts need. Treating addiction as an illness, and dealing with users’ underlying issues, is a better and more cost effective method than jailing them, especially where nonviolent drug offenders are involved.
Addicted opioid users often turn to crime to support their habits, which leads to permanent criminal records that prevent future employment, causing subsequent recidivism. I will address this vicious cycle of hopelessness by pushing for criminal justice reform to help break the cycle.
Two different types of users contribute to the opioid crisis: abusers and victims. Abusers make the conscious choice to abuse prescription pain medication and/or illicit drugs. Victims typically become addicted from a legitimate prescription and are not aware of the potential disastrous effects. Evidence suggests early addiction estimates regarding the latter category were exaggerated.
A 2014 analysis from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health determined that 54% of nonmedical users obtained prescription opioids from friends or relatives; 16% bought or stole opioids from friends or relatives; 4% bought them from strangers; 6% mentioned other sources; and 20% of nonmedical users reported obtaining opioids through written prescriptions. This means that more people are becoming addicted through diverted pills rather than through actual prescriptions. The data from the analysis also suggests that doctors are prescribing more pain pills than necessary, which leaves patients with extra pills available for abuse by nonmedical users.
Big Pharma has a huge impact on the frequency with which American doctors prescribe pain medications and the quantities they prescribe, which creates perverse incentives for doctors to overprescribe opioid medication to patients. Doctors are the gatekeepers, so they need to be more judicious in prescribing pain medication.
We also need to open up the market for alternative practitioners, such as acupuncturists and naturopaths, by removing occupational licensure requirements, so that they may help patients manage pain without opioids in the first place or help those already addicted to quit. This is crucial to reducing opioid dependency.