On Thursday, March 16, an Ohio couple was found dead in their home by their four children, as previously reported by the Inquisitr. The suspected cause of death in the case was a drug overdose caused by the powerful opioid painkiller Fentanyl and this tragic accident is unfortunately not an isolated incident. In fact, CBS News reported that overdose deaths involving Fentanyl have increased by 80 percent from 2013-2014, with about 5.5 thousand deaths related to the substance in the U.S. in 2014 alone.
Fentanyl is a prescription painkiller that doctors say is up to 50 times more powerful than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine, according to the CBS News report. The trouble is, not only is this substance easily accessible by the general public, but other street drugs like cocaine and heroin are often laced with it, which can create lethal combinations that are unbeknownst to the user. As the Huffington Post declared, a dose of Fentanyl the size of a grain of salt can be deadly, creating concern about just how dangerous the substance can be. The overdose crisis has become an issue internationally, especially in Canada where the number of opioid overdoses has increased exponentially in the last decade.
Vancouver, specifically, has had its own issues with Fentanyl. Just last year, the Huffington Post reported that there were 914 overdose deaths in the city, two thirds of which were linked to Fentanyl and 142 of which were in the month of December alone (a record-breaking 11 in one night). This prompted immediate action from the public and politicians alike across Canada. In response, February 21 marked the National Day of Action on the Overdose Crisis in Canada, creating awareness about just how important this issue has become.
Many politicians and human rights groups agree that we can no longer sit idly and wait for the current policies (many of which fall in line with the “war on drugs” ideology) to solve these issues. The fact remains that the harsh prohibition on illicit substances has done nothing to stop the usage or trafficking of illegal drugs. In fact, Katrina Pacey, an Executive Director of the Pivot Legal Society in Vancouver (a human rights advocacy group) agrees with this and stated that the current prohibition is “…a recipe for complete disaster” because overdose epidemics are the result of “people… accessing substances through an illicit unregulated market.”
A rally took place on Capitol Hill back in September for activists to raise awareness about the crisis and spoke about the importance of increasing federal funding to help with solutions to the problem.
The natural question then becomes “what’s the next course of action?”
Looking at the alcohol prohibition back in the early 1900’s is helpful in answering this question. During that time, there were an increase in reported cases of deaths related to alcohol consumption because its illegality forced the production underground, giving the producers full control without any regulations to keep the alcohol safe. This is very similar to the current overdose crisis. Liberal MP, Nathaniel Erskine-Smith agrees with this point as he states that criminalizing drugs “…stigmatizes the user and [because of that] they’re less likely to seek help,” CBC News reported.
It’s also important to note that the notion of decriminalization and legalization are two separate approaches. When we stop throwing non-violent drug offenders into the criminal justice system without thinking twice, we are decriminalizing the use of drugs. It’s when we proactively take steps to regulate and control the production of the substances that we move towards lifting the prohibition and legalizing.
Interestingly, Portugal is well known for decriminalizing the possession and use of all drugs back in 2001. As a result, they have since seen decreases in drug related harms and misuses, as the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto confirmed in a 2014 policy paper, CBC reported.
It all starts with education, Erksine-Smith states. Educating the public is an important step in demolishing the stigmas that surround drug users, because people need to understand the issue from the perspective of a health concern rather than a criminal issue that should be harshly punished. These stigmas are a huge force that perpetuate and prevent many users from seeking help or utilizing the services that can benefit them.
Currently, Canada is taking steps towards this movement, by opening three safe injection sites in Toronto. Here, people can be provided with safe injection equipment and be monitored by on-site nurses in the event of an overdose. This will be the second Canadian city to open such a site, after Vancouver opened InSite in 2003. In addition to the safe injection site in Vancouver, the Huffington Post reported that the city has experimented with prescription heroin in an attempt to treat drug users in a non-oppressive manner. Not only is the practice a human rights improvement, it’s also cost effective. The cost of treating the 150 clients in the program annually is far less than it would cost if they were involved in the criminal justice system.
These progressive programs are in contrast to the harsh prohibition of illicit substances as a result of the War on Drugs. Many agree that this war has been deemed a failure on many levels, so now is the time to look for alternative solutions that promote solution-based policies as opposed to using scare tactics as deterrents that will not only fail to solve the overdose crisis, but will potentially cause it to become more widespread.
[Featured Image by Drew Angerer/ Getty Images]