Letter: We lack the will to use proven drug addiction harm reduction

From: Scott Keen


The folly of local efforts to battle opioid overdose deaths is demoralizing.

Everybody knows “heroin” now contains fentanyl, the potent synthetic opioid that makes overdosing easy. Worse, it is not just opioid users being impacted. Fentanyl is showing up in other non-opioid drugs (meth, cocaine, counterfeit pills, etc.) so even people with no intention of touching opioids are overdosing. People are dropping like flies. Fentanyl overdoses are now the leading cause of death for US adults ages 18 to 45.

Almost daily, The Republic publishes stories decrying this horrifying level of opioid overdose deaths, with captions like “They’re dying,” exclaiming “Agency X is taking action!”

Yes, Naloxone can pull a user back from the brink of death if they are lucky enough to have somebody find and treat them before they die. Good luck!

However, I never see discussions about implementing proven harm reduction measures. History shows there will always be drug users but there are low-cost, effective ways to keep them from dying.

Providing drug testing lets users know what they are about to consume. Street drugs are notoriously of unknown composition, but opioid addicts will continue to use a drug with fentanyl in it, because that is all they can get. Regardless, knowing what is in a drug allows people to make informed decisions about use.

Safe use locations provide safe settings for drug consumption. Users are monitored so overdoses are identified and dealt with immediately. Sites also provide clean needles and other supplies to prevent the spread of diseases. Remember the needle exchange Gov. Mike Pence reluctantly allowed in Scott County after a giant HIV outbreak? It worked then.

There have been no drug overdose deaths at any of the safe use sites in the US. It appears those work too.

Of course, these actions are illegal in Indiana.

Safe use sites also open doors to treatment services and resources when addicts are ready to quit.

Medically assisted treatment using drugs such as Suboxone can reduce mortality of opioid addiction by 50%. However, arcane federal rules severely limit how doctors can prescribe this effective medicine. Family doctors should be able to prescribe it to help their patients.

I read this in the April 16 Republic: “Onions to health officials overly concerned about funding and treatment for people who choose illegal drug use.” My paraphrase: “Let those people die.” That’s pretty cruel. Big pharma billionaires were convicted of sowing opioids to the masses and addicting millions, but we still blame the addict. “Blessed are the merciful…”

America’s archaic, vindictive drug laws and failure to focus on harm reduction reveal we still view drug users as moral failures deserving some form of punishment. Does that include death?

If our society genuinely cared about preventing opioid deaths, we would implement bold harm reduction actions that have real-world positive impacts.

But I guess we don’t, so we don’t. How sad.


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