What Can Be Done About the Opioid Crisis?

Editor’s note: In this Future View, students discuss efforts to curb illegal drug use. Next week we’ll ask, “There has been a surge of border crossings at the US-Mexico border this year. What should be done to combat the surge of displaced people and families at the border? Do asylum seekers need to be detained? Should the US increase security at the border?” Students should click here to submit opinions of fewer than 250 words before June 7. The best responses will be published that night.

Permit the legal production, sale and use of such drugs as marijuana, cocaine and heroin, and watch as new, regulated entrants into the market drive down the sky-high profits of drug cartels, loosen their monopolistic hold on drug sales and render drug- trafficking operations obsolete.

The war on drugs is a war on the fundamental logic of economics itself. Where robust untapped demand exists, some profit-seeking entrepreneur will rise up to exploit the opportunity. These economic principles do not care whether goods or services are moral, nor whether entrepreneurs are savory characters operating within the bounds of the law. Has prohibition taught us anything? The government can chase down supply, seize massive volumes of illicit goods, spend billions routing networks of traffickers and even topple a major crime family every now and then. But demand remains, so supply always finds its way back into the market once again.

A war on drugs will always lose as long as a set of entrepreneurs see it fit to supply consumers, and there always are. The US does not have the stomach for what it takes to enforce drug laws, and regulators are not our moral overlords. Leave the matter of drug use to individuals, their families, and their churches. It is time to decriminalize the use of all drugs.

—Greg Plathe, King’s College London, global finance and banking

Declare a Second War on Drugs

America did not lose the war on drugs. We retreated and left our cities, towns, families and communities defenseless.

It is fashionable in our modern political climate to say, “banning drugs does not work,” or “the war on drugs failed.” To the contrary, not only did the war drastically reduce the number of people using drugs, it firmly placed in the mind of the American people that using drugs is wrong.

Since the massive US defunding of drug-enforcement efforts and implementation of other soft-on-crime measures, drug use has fueled violence in such cities as Chicago, New York and Los Angeles, destroyed the integrity of rural towns, and destabilized the livelihoods of families and communities everywhere.

Should America accept the position that reduces all policy decisions, and thus drug use, to personal choice and individual autonomy? Or should the political community have the power to regulate and punish drug use for the common good and flourishing of the community?

The answer is simple: Ban drugs. It is time we declare the second war on drugs.

—William Benson, The Catholic University of America, politics

Offer Aid Instead of Law

What is the purpose of drug prohibition? Is it specifically to prevent their use, or is it to prevent the negative impact associated with drug use? US drug policy points to the former, as from 1999 to 2022 overdoses from any drug—legal or illegal—are up. In contrast, Europe has vastly different policies. In general, Europe understands that addiction is a sickness, not a crime. Study after study has shown that the legality of drugs has a marginal impact on their use.

The criminalization of drugs has disproportionately incarcerated people of color, increased market value for substances and created the opportunity for other crimes. All of this while doing nothing to prevent the actual issue at hand: stopping the use of drugs. Making drugs illegal simply makes things worse.

The war on drugs should be regarded as a failure, and the US should take the approach of decriminalization and recovery. We should see people suffering from drug abuse as victims who need support rather than as criminals. The logistics of legalizing and offering aid is tricky, but it’s certainly possible.

—Sebastian Barney, University of Utah, engineering

Fentanyl Is a Weapon of Mass Destruction

The US has not lost the war on drugs, but it has lost the messaging campaign warning of today’s youth of opioids’ toxicity. The synthetic opioid fentanyl is 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine, and it’s killing an alarming number of young people. Young adults rarely take heroin, meth or cocaine. Those drugs are not the sort of thing the 1980s drug campaign “just say no” could address. Young adults typically take such popular prescription pills as Adderall, Xanax and Oxycontin, the counterfeits of which can contain unknown quantities of fentanyl, which is fatal at two milligrams. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, the synthetic opioid is even being introduced into marijuana, with young adults often unaware of what they are ingesting.

In my home state of California, drug education in schools isn’t mandatory. The education code requires instruction on alcohol and drugs, but the wording is vague and doesn’t include specific drug topics. America needs a statewide awareness campaign starting with middle schools to change the narrative from focusing on “gateway drugs” to “one pill can kill.”

Fentanyl overdoses are now the leading cause of death in America for ages 18 to 45. According to the Homeland Security Department, a weapon of mass destruction can be defined as something “chemical” and “intended to harm a large number of people.” The US should classify fentanyl as a weapon of mass destruction to deal with the ongoing opioid epidemic.

How many more deaths are needed before action?

—Ashley Carnahan, University of Southern California, journalism

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Wonder Land: Joe Biden prefers to talk about racism and guns rather than face the real problem. Images: AFP/Getty Images/Reuters/Shutterstock Composite: Mark Kelly

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