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Monday, March 18, 2019

Reprinted with permission from Creators.

Addiction to opioids is hazardous to your health. To most people, this may sound like an obvious and inescapable reality. If your chief priority is staying cool, the thinking goes, you don’t move to Phoenix. If you really want to stay alive, you don’t use heroin.

But humans have created innumerable places in Phoenix where it’s possible to minimize personal contact with searing heat. Humans have also created places where it’s possible to inject opioids at relatively low risk.

Heroin users have long been susceptible to life-threatening diseases such as AIDS and hepatitis, which are spread through shared syringes. In recent years, those who use heroin or prescription opioids have also faced an increasingly common and more immediate peril: sudden death from overdose.

In 2015, more than 33,000 Americans died of overdoses involving these drugs — nearly triple the number in 2002. That growing epidemic is one reason that life expectancy among whites actually declined last year.

It’s not hard to figure out why opioid dependence can lead to the morgue. Users may overdose because their heroin has been adulterated with other, more powerful drugs. They may combine opioids with alcohol or sedatives, aggravating the risk. They often shoot up alone or with other users, meaning they may have no one who can help them if things go wrong.

The best way to reduce the toll is dissuading people from opioid use. But some people are drawn to intoxicating substances, and once they become dependent, they find it hard to abstain even if they would like to — which many don’t. So the question becomes how to prevent inveterate users from dying.

Not everyone thinks this objective is commendable. In the 1990s, drug users were contracting and dying of AIDS (and infecting their sexual partners) after shooting up with dirty syringes. But a lot of people, including President Bill Clinton, resisted efforts to expand access to clean needles. Like giving condoms to teens, this was seen as a false solution that would only encourage people to engage in risky behavior.

Wrong. Making sterile needles available, it turned out, averted disease and saved lives without generating more addiction. Let drug users get the means to protect themselves, and many of them will take it. Self-destructiveness is not necessarily their goal.

A comparable approach can avert overdose deaths. One tool is naloxone, a drug that quickly neutralizes the effects of opioids, reversing overdoses. Emergency rooms keep it on hand. Ambulances carry it. Some police departments equip officers with supplies.

Another solution is coming to King County, Washington, which includes Seattle: safe injection facilities where people dependent on drugs can use them in clean conditions, without fear of arrest, under the supervision of health care workers. Those users who are ready to go straight will also get help finding treatment.

Though it’s never been done in the United States, it’s a well-tested idea. The Drug Policy Alliance says these sites have been opened in some 100 cities around the world.

They have spread because they work. Insite, which operates a venue in Vancouver, just over the Canadian border from Seattle, says 3 million injections have taken place there. Nearly 5,000 overdoses have been reversed, without a single overdose death.

A review in the medical journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence found these facilities have been effective in fostering safer practices and reducing overdoses. Contrary to fears, they have not served to “increase drug injecting, drug trafficking or crime in the surrounding environments.”

Aside from the benefits to drug users, there are benefits to everyone else. The safe injection sites succeeded in curtailing public drug use and the presence of syringes left on the street. They save cities money for emergency medical care.

But obstacles abound. Washington state Sen. Mark Miloscia, a Republican who opposes the Seattle initiative, told The Washington Post, “Saving lives is about getting people off heroin and not tolerating it.”

Actually, saving the maximum number of lives involves a mix of remedies. One is educating people about the perils of addiction. Another is furnishing treatment to those who want it. Clean living is healthy.

Clean living doesn’t appeal to some people, though, and safe injection sites may keep them alive long enough for them to change their ways. Even the most incorrigible opioid users are not beyond help. But dead ones are, and there are more of those every day.

Steve Chapman blogs at http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/chapman. Follow him on Twitter @SteveChapman13 or at https://www.facebook.com/stevechapman13. To find out more about Steve Chapman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

 

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9 responses to “A Bold Remedy For Overdose Deaths”

  1. Lynda Groom says:

    A sure fire remedy is don’t use that crap in the first place. Of course such a plan won’t work for many folks. Sad!

    • dpaano says:

      Unfortunately, Lynda, many folks are not strong enough to see what drugs will do to them…..this is why these centers will help for those who actually WANT to get off drugs. At least it’s a start and, if it works, then I’m all for it! Many people on drugs don’t actually WANT to be on drugs…..they need a way and a means to get off the never-ending wheel!

  2. sigrid28 says:

    Compared to Jeff Sessions and his War on Americans, these centers offer a more effective, less expensive, and far more humane alternative that can be provided anywhere. Substance abuse is a devastating medical condition that will never be obliterated. I would go so far as to say it is part of the human condition. If we face that, we can find multiple means of addressing the worst problems that result from it. Threats, bluster, and magical thinking do not, however, produce much more than pain and certainly cannot be called a solution by any stretch of the imagination.

    • Bettykpeterson says:

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    • dpaano says:

      Plus, Sigrid, with all the stress and strife being put on this nation from Trump and his buddies, it isn’t going to help at all! Now Trump’s saying that he foresees a major war with North Korea…..that almost makes ME want to start taking something!! Unfortunately, I was taught at an early age that drugs were NOT good and would only make things worse. My parents always said that these were a “crutch,” and that I was stronger than that and didn’t need a crutch! More people should realize that they can accomplish so much more without drugs, but I’m not denigrating those that use them…..I just want them to get the help that they need. This is the ONLY way we’re going to stop drug abuse in this country!

      • sigrid28 says:

        The mental health parity feature of “health essentials” in the ACA offers diagnosis, medication, and therapies for all those suffering mental illness, those with developmental disabilities, and individuals seeking treatment for substance abuse. These are the programs our Republican friends want to eliminate. Sadly, they could be the family members in the picture above, collapsing with grief over the death of a loved one.

  3. dpaano says:

    It should be pretty clear by now that our government (the GOP, in particular) don’t seem to understand that some so-called “questionable” programs DO work. These injection sites not only allow opioid users to have a safe place and prevent them from overdosing, but they also try to help those that WANT to get off drugs to do so. This, to MY logical way of thinking, is a GOOD thing, but apparently our politicians just don’t see it that way. Considering also that the new Trumpcare will cut funding for centers that cater to people with mental problems, this also shows a lack of understanding. Trump keeps saying that he wants to get rid of drug problems and drug users, but he and his unqualified cabinet, don’t seem to understand that sometimes you have to try different things that may sound questionable to see if they work. And, if they DO work, which seems to be what’s happening in Vancouver, then you run with it. It if doesn’t work, you go another route, but you DO NOT take away money for treatment to STOP drug use and think that this is going to help!
    Personally, I think all logic and reason has disappeared in our politicians lately, especially the Republicans! As for Trump and his minions, they never had any logic or reason to begin with! Their ONLY goal is how much money they can make for themselves and to hell with the rest of this nation!

    • sigrid28 says:

      Just to brighten your day, remember the flakey doctor who offered his one-half page assertion of Trump’s health during the campaign. I think they hired him to draft Trump’s tax plan–just to finish it quickly and get it out of the way.

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