For half a century, the United States has waged a failed War on Drugs. More than $1 trillion have been spent, millions of people have been arrested and imprisoned, and yet, we are not only not a drug-free society, but for the past decade or so America has found itself in the grips of a so-called opioid crisis.
A growing body of evidence makes clear that government efforts to stop the opioid crisis by cracking down on prescription opioids have not only failed to stop the continued rise in overdose deaths, but have actually made the problem worse.
While a disproportionate focus has been on prescription opioids, prescriptions of opioids actually reached their peak in 2010 and have been on the decline ever since.
The “crisis” has long since been a problem of heroin and fentanyl, with predictably tragic outcomes.
“The opioid overdose epidemic in the United States continues to worsen,” declares a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
The report explains that the opioid overdose problem has come in three waves.
- The first began in the 1990s as prescription opioids surged in popularity,
- the second began in 2010 and involved increases in heroin-related deaths and
- the third started in 2013 with the growing presence of fentanyl and fentanyl analogues in heroin.
Though it is often ignored by politicians and mainstream media outlets, the second and third waves, which have taken opioid overdose deaths to record levels and created the sense of a “crisis,” are a product of misguided supply-side crackdowns.
In 2010, the introduction of an abuse-deterrent version of Oxycontin was touted as one way to cut down on abuses of the drug.
Rather than save lives, abuse-deterrent opioids only resulted in higher costs and encouraging people to move to the black market.
Research published last year suggested “a substantial share of the dramatic increase in heroin deaths since 2010 can be attributed to the reformulation of OxyContin.”
Compounding this, as groups like the Drug Policy Alliance and the Global Commission on Drug Policy have explained, federal and state officials ramped up efforts against “pill mills” and perceived overprescribing around the same time.
These efforts not only haven’t altered the trajectory of opioid overdoses overall, but instead pushed many individuals to seek relief from the black market.
How much longer do we need to fail and how many more people need to die before we can admit the War on Drugs has been a failure?
Author: Sal Rodriguez is an editorial writer and columnist for the Southern California News Group. He may be reached at email@example.com