Hear Me Out, It's Time To Legally Allow Heroin Addicts To Get High

Hear Me Out, It's Time To Legally Allow Heroin Addicts To Get High

In an era marked by what's become known as "the opioid epidemic," we have to start doing what works instead of what feels good.
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More than 63,600 people died of a drug overdose in 2016, reaching a rate 21 percent higher than the number of fatalities reported a year earlier. In the same year, opioids killed more people than the 37,400 killed in car accidents, 38,000 by guns, or 40,000 from breast cancer.

Unsurprisingly, roughly two-thirds of these deaths were caused by opioids such as heroin and prescription painkillers.

These rates continue to rise while the reach of these substances continues to spread. Drug addiction is no longer a contained problem; it is a global epidemic, with opioids at its forefront.

With numbers this staggering, the phrase “opioid epidemic” has been rolled off the tongue of every politician and news anchor you can think of. The problem is, it seems that we spend more time talking about the epidemic itself than talking about what we can do to solve it.

The answer to how we solve the opioid epidemic is simple: we don’t.

So, what do we do? We try to ease its intensity. We try to save some lives. We try to help folks help themselves.

It’s time to start looking at the opioid epidemic less through the eyes of politics or principle, and more through the eyes of pragmatism. What we are doing now is simply not working.

And what exactly are we doing now? Mostly prison.

According to the Bureau of Prisons, roughly half (48.6 percent) of inmates in federal prisons are in for drug offenses. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 16 percent of inmates in state prisons have a drug crime as their most serious offense. Along with these troubling statistics, the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse has recently reported that 65 percent of all U.S. inmates meet medical criteria for substance abuse addiction; however, only 11 percent receive any form of treatment.

Upon release, approximately 95 percent return to drug abuse.

Based on these statistics, it is fair to say that we need to try something different. One promising option is something known as supervised injection facilities.

Supervised injection facilities are legally-sanctioned, medically-supervised facilities designed to reduce nuisance from public drug use and provide a hygienic environment in which individuals are able to consume illicit recreational drugs intravenously. These facilities provide sterile injection equipment, information about drugs and basic health care, treatment referrals, and access to medical staff, including access to counseling and other means of drug rehabilitation.

As of 2018, there are approximately 100 supervised injection facilities operating in at least 66 cities around the world in nine countries (Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Luxembourg, Spain, Denmark, Australia and Canada). The first North American supervised injection site, Insite, opened in Vancouver, Canada in 2003.

Most (if not all) of the arguments against supervised injection facilities center around the same tagline: what is the motivation for a drug addict to stop if we’re giving them a legal and safe place to use their drugs? To that, I have a follow-up question: has the current state of affairs (legality, safety, societal ostracization, etc.) been effective at deterring drug addicts from using? The answer to this is simple and factual: no.

Since 1924, laws have been in place making heroin and other opioids illegal in the United States, with severe sentences to boot. Is prison stopping addicts from using? Nope: 60 to 80 percent of drug abusers commit a new crime (typically a drug-driven crime) after release from prison and approximately 95 percent return to drug abuse after release from prison.

And drug abuse inside prison walls in more than just a plot line for the latest season of “Orange is the New Black”: a report on the state of California alone found that roughly 1,000 “drug incidents” – seizures of marijuana, heroin, and other drugs – are reported annually at California prisons. Between 2006 and 2008, 44 inmates in the state died of drug overdoses.

While we still have a long way to go in terms of drug-related education and prevention, no one is left unsure of whether or not heroin or other opioids are dangerous. The headlines speak for themselves.

In fact, many users have either survived an overdose themselves or have lost someone close to them due to an overdose.

Yet still, we are not seeing even a dent in the epidemic. On the contrary, we are seeing an increase. What is the motivation for a drug addict to stop if we’re giving them a legal and safe place to use their drugs? What is the motivation for a drug addict to stop if we aren’t giving them a legal and safe place to use their drugs?

That’s not for me to say. That’s not for me, or you, or a politician to say. That answer belongs to professionals in the field as well as those struggling with the disease themselves. All we can do is try to save some lives. Try to do something that works instead of something that makes us feel good at night.

Supervised injection facilities are doing just that. According to a recent study published in a highly credible medical journal, fatal overdoses dropped 35 percent in the vicinity of Vancouver’s supervised injection facility, Insite, in the two years after it opened. By comparison, the rest of Vancouver witnessed only a 9 percent decrease in that same period.

Due to medical supervision and the immediate access to Narcan (naloxone), a drug that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, there have been more than 2,000 overdoses at the facility but not a single death. It has also been found that Insite users are 70 percent less likely to report needle-sharing than those who do not use the facility, leading to an anticipated decrease in the incidence of HIV/AIDS.

Due to the extension of counseling and other means of drug rehabilitation at the facility, not only are addicts staying alive, but they are being given a direct lifeline to recovery that users on the street do not have access to.

No one wants to see the persistence of a disease like addiction, and none of us want to look in the mirror and believe we’re giving addicts a place to pursue what’s killing them. As an aspiring substance abuse counselor, I certainly don’t. But we aren’t in the position to go with what makes us feel good anymore.

We aren’t in the position to call something like prison a solution and then wonder why we have an epidemic on our hands. We don’t have a chance at becoming an ideal society right now; simply a better one. A healthier one. One that sees more birthdays.

Cover Image Credit: Flickr

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I'm The Girl Without A 'Friend Group'

And here's why I'm OK with it

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Little things remind me all the time.

For example, I'll be sitting in the lounge with the people on my floor, just talking about how everyone's days went. Someone will turn to someone else and ask something along the lines of, "When are we going to so-and-so's place tonight?" Sometimes it'll even be, "Are you ready to go to so-and-so's place now? Okay, we'll see you later, Taylor!"

It's little things like that, little things that remind me I don't have a "friend group." And it's been like that forever. I don't have the same people to keep me company 24 hours of the day, the same people to do absolutely everything with, and the same people to cling to like glue. I don't have a whole cast of characters to entertain me and care for me and support me. Sometimes, especially when it feels obvious to me, not having a "friend group" makes me feel like a waste of space. If I don't have more friends than I can count, what's the point in trying to make friends at all?

I can tell you that there is a point. As a matter of fact, just because I don't have a close-knit clique doesn't mean I don't have any friends. The friends I have come from all different walks of life, some are from my town back home and some are from across the country. I've known some of my friends for years, and others I've only known for a few months. It doesn't really matter where they come from, though. What matters is that the friends I have all entertain me, care for me, and support me. Just because I'm not in that "friend group" with all of them together doesn't mean that we can't be friends to each other.

Still, I hate avoiding sticking myself in a box, and I'm not afraid to seek out friendships. I've noticed that a lot of the people I see who consider themselves to be in a "friend group" don't really venture outside the pack very often. I've never had a pack to venture outside of, so I don't mind reaching out to new people whenever.

I'm not going to lie, when I hear people talking about all the fun they're going to have with their "friend group" over the weekend, part of me wishes I could be included in something like that. I do sometimes want to have the personality type that allows me to mesh perfectly into a clique. I couldn't tell you what it is about me, but there is some part of me that just happens to function better one-on-one with people.

I hated it all my life up until very recently, and that's because I've finally learned that not having a "friend group" is never going to be the same as not having friends.

SEE ALSO: To The Girls Who Float Between Friend Groups

Cover Image Credit: wordpress.com

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Denver's Decision To Decriminalize Magic Mushrooms Offers New Hope For Those Struggling With Mental Illness

If we want to really make progress in mental health treatment, we might have to start considering solutions that are a little bit unorthodox.

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Admittedly, magic mushrooms are not the first drug that comes to mind when you think of Denver, Colorado. However, this week the residents of Denver will vote on whether to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms as part of a movement nicknamed "Decriminalize Denver." The movement is the nation's first public referendum on hallucinogenic mushrooms. Initiative 301 aims to ratify the directive that enforcing laws for personal use or possession of psilocybin mushrooms "shall be the lowest law enforcement priority in the City and County of Denver."

While the motives behind decriminalization are undeniably varied, one major reason to support the legalization of magic mushrooms is the fact that they offer a lot of potential in long-term treatment of mental illness and addiction. According to a study led by Jeremy Daniel and Margaret Haberman at the South Dakota State University College of Pharmacy in 2017, psilocybin mushrooms have high affinity for several serotonin receptors located in numerous areas of the brain, including the cerebral cortex and thalamus.

Findings like these point to the fact that psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, may be an effective treatment for addiction, depression, chronic pain, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

The benefits are so convincing that the FDA has granted "breakthrough therapy" status to study psilocybin for treating depression due to the fact that preliminary evidence shows "the drug may demonstrate substantial improvement over available therapy," meaning magic mushrooms might be closer to their namesake after all, bringing new hope for those who have exhausted other options and found them more harmful than helpful.

Kevin Matthews, the campaign director of "Decriminalize Denver," credits psilocybin mushrooms with "really saving [his] life" following his medical discharge from the United States Military Academy due to his major depression. Matthews says his "life had crumbled beneath [his] feet" and suffered without a solution for years until his friends introduced him to magic mushrooms. Since discovering their potential for treating his depression, he's dedicated his life to bringing others with severe mental illnesses the same opportunity.

A 2015 paper from the University of Alabama went so far as to find that "classic psychedelic use is associated with reduced psychological distress and suicidality in the United States adult population." Findings like these are imperative, especially in a time when suicide rates have risen 30% in the last decade.

If we want to really make progress in mental health treatment, we might have to start considering solutions that are a little bit unorthodox.

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