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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Everything You Will Miss If You Commit Suicide

The world needs you.
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You won’t see the sunrise or have your favorite breakfast in the morning.

Instead, your family will mourn the sunrise because it means another day without you.

You will never stay up late talking to your friends or have a bonfire on a summer night.

You won’t laugh until you cry again, or dance around and be silly.

You won’t go on another adventure. You won't drive around under the moonlight and stars.

They’ll miss you. They’ll cry.

You won’t fight with your siblings only to make up minutes later and laugh about it.

You won’t get to interrogate your sister's fiancé when the time comes.

You won’t be there to wipe away your mother’s tears when she finds out that you’re gone.

You won’t be able to hug the ones that love you while they’re waiting to wake up from the nightmare that had become their reality.

You won’t be at your grandparents funeral, speaking about the good things they did in their life.

Instead, they will be at yours.

You won’t find your purpose in life, the love of your life, get married or raise a family.

You won’t celebrate another Christmas, Easter or birthday.

You won’t turn another year older.

You will never see the places you’ve always dreamed of seeing.

You will not allow yourself the opportunity to get help.

This will be the last sunset you see.

You’ll never see the sky change from a bright blue to purples, pinks, oranges and yellows meshing together over the landscape again.

If the light has left your eyes and all you see is the darkness, know that it can get better. Let yourself get better.

This is what you will miss if you leave the world today.

This is who will care about you when you are gone.

You can change lives. But I hope it’s not at the expense of yours.

We care. People care.

Don’t let today be the end.

You don’t have to live forever sad. You can be happy. It’s not wrong to ask for help.

Thank you for staying. Thank you for fighting.

Suicide is a real problem that no one wants to talk about. I’m sure you’re no different. But we need to talk about it. There is no difference between being suicidal and committing suicide. If someone tells you they want to kill themselves, do not think they won’t do it. Do not just tell them, “Oh you’ll be fine.” Because when they aren’t, you will wonder what you could have done to help. Sit with them however long you need to and tell them it will get better. Talk to them about their problems and tell them there is help. Be the help. Get them assistance. Remind them of all the things they will miss in life.

For help, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Cover Image Credit: Brittani Norman

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Doing Drugs Isn't Cool, Period

This so-called "cool" epidemic needs to stop, especially in the college atmosphere.

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Adderall, Ritalin, LSD, Ecstasy, Xanax, Valium, Alcohol; the list can go on and on. The point is, they all can be addictive and they all are promoted in college. No matter what university you attend, you will likely come across someone using at least one of these or overhearing a conversation about them.

For you frat party-goers, you are blind. You are risking yourself to eventually use at least one addictive drug. You may think that you'll never get into drugs, but that's what they all say when they're presenting their story to a crowd of millennials while being handcuffed to a chair.

Be honest with yourself.

If you're questioning if something is safe or not, most of the time, it's not. Studies have shown that college students involved in sororities, fraternities, and athletic organizations are at higher risk of abusing dangerous substances. That doesn't mean don't join these clubs, but it's more of a warning to what could happen if you aren't making smart decisions.

It has been reported that 80% of U.S. college students have abused alcohol.

Your weekly Thursday Instagram post captioned "Thirsty Thursday" while holding a White Claw isn't cool. Please ditch the trend of taking pictures in front of a tapestry in the basement of a frat house. I hate to break it to you, but it really doesn't go with your feed, Brittany. Just because it is Thursday, doesn't mean it's an excuse to feed your alcohol addiction and whatever else you may be doing at frat parties.

Attending weekly parties held by frats is increasing your risk of using addictive substances. Picture this: you had a really tough day of classes on Thursday. Your "Thirsty Thursday girls club" group chat just texted you and said they are going to multiple frat parties tonight. They plan on pre-gaming in your dorm room then walking to the frat party nearby.

If that party is lame, they plan on walking to another one down the street. You immediately express how tough your day was and that you're excited for the later hours of the night. You plan your best outfit, do your makeup and hair, and they come over.

You're having fun during the pre-game, so you invite some more people. You now have close to 10 people in your 130-square-foot dorm room. Someone reported a noise complaint to your RA. Your RA knocks on the door and you scatter to hide all the alcohol and be quiet. They say to keep the noise down because someone made a complaint.

After that, it's time to head out.

You're walking, or shall I say stumbling, to the first party. You get stopped by campus police and they write everyone a ticket for being intoxicated in public and underage drinking. You brush it off and still go to the party. You get blacked out drunk and there's a group of guys pestering you to try LSD. They explained it to be "another world".

You buy a single pill and try it. You convince your friends to try it and you all love the feeling of "tripping". You buy more and take it back to your dorm with you.

As you're walking to your dorm, you collapse. A cop happens to ride by and see you on the ground, and they take you to the hospital. You wake up having no idea where you are and your parents standing next to you. You are presented with multiple tickets and now you're being interrogated so the police can figure out who has possession of the drugs.

Approximately 110,000 students between ages 18 and 24 are arrested every year for an alcohol-related violation, such as public drunkenness or driving under the influence.

Yes, that may seem extreme, but doing drugs because someone convinced you to is not cool! It can lead to addiction, legal issues, hospitalization, and even death. Don't make decisions based on people's ability to convince you. Although that was a made up story, it happens in real life!

If you're prescribed Adderall for ADHD purposes, use it wisely. Don't tell people you have a prescription. Don't sell it.

My point is, be smart and don't do drugs to seem cool to others or to fit in with the crowd.

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