By Jack Burns
For the first time in U.S. history, more Americans died in 2016 of drug overdoses than were killed in the Vietnam War. Let that sink in.
Last year’s death toll in the War on Drugs was 59,000 killed, while during the entire Vietnam War, 1955 to 1975, 58,220 American service members’ lives were lost. And, thanks to the immoral and futile police approach to the drug problem, there appears to be no hope in sight for the tide to change.
As The Free Thought Project had previously reported, drug overdose deaths outnumber the number of Americans killed in automobile accidents each year. Answering the question of who is responsible for so many overdose deaths requires a careful examination of the crisis which has now reached epidemic proportions.
The principal players appear to be pharmaceutical companies, who knowingly manufacture dangerous opioids — essentially synthetic heroin — which, alone, kills tens of thousands. Big Pharma has been caught time and again pushing the pills onto the nation’s physicians who prescribe the dangerously powerful painkillers en masse — even to children.
Then, there are the abusers, those who are addicted to opiates. Getting hooked on opiates is easy, according to the CDC, who recently recommended the powerful class of drugs be taken for no more than 14 days. According to the Washington Post:
Noting that “long-term opioid abuse often begins with treatment of acute pain,” the CDC said that “three or fewer days” of opioid treatment “usually will be sufficient for most non-traumatic pain not related to major surgery.”
Street pushers provide the missing source for the drugs when doctors will no longer prescribe the pills to patients who have demonstrated a pattern of abuse. Yet, thanks to the war on drugs pushing the sale of these drugs into dark alleys and the like, the quality of street drugs is questionable with every dose sold. Some opiates have even been laced with the powerful drug Fentanyl, a drug so dangerous even casual contact with it can prove fatal.
As TFTP reported, Insys Pharmaceuticals, the maker of Fentanyl, donated half-a-million dollars to keep marijuana from becoming legal in one U.S. state. One-third of the overdose deaths in Ohio were linked to Fentanyl, yet instead of creating a safer drug, the company was more concerned with combating cannabis legalization.
Last, but certainly not least, is the government’s own Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). The DEA’s only purpose is propping up Big Pharma while raining hell down on Americans for their choice of substances. The DEA even admitted, early this year, it has been trafficking large quantities of controlled substances into the country.
Any decision to ban opiates or remove them from the market, would likely further drive the drugs underground, increase crime, criminalize abusers, lead to growth in the prison industrial complex, and result in many more overdoses. In fact, that is exactly what’s happening. The war on drugs is creating a de facto prison state.
Some U.S. States are taking matters into their own hands. As TFTP reported recently, Ohio is now suing drug manufacturers for their role in the crisis, stating their desire to increase their bottom line profit margins have crossed ethical lines and led to the deaths of countless Ohioans.
Other states and police departments are also taking radical measures to fix the problem instead of prolonging and expanding it through the use of police violence.
As the Boston Globe reports:
As Gloucester police chief, Leonard Campanello pledged in 2015 that drug users could walk into the police station, hand over heroin, and walk out into treatment within hours — without arrest or charges. The concept of help rather than handcuffs became a national sensation.
Campanello is no longer police chief there, but the program is continuing in Gloucester. The concept of helping addicts instead of criminalizing them is such a success, it’s been adopted by 200 police agencies in 28 states. This encouraging phenomenon shows that it’s possible for law enforcement to listen to reason when it comes to drug abuse and actually helping communities.
“It puts police in the lifesaving business instead of the spin-drying business of arresting and releasing,” said John Rosenthal, a Boston resident fighting the opioid epidemic. “We estimate that approximately 10,000 people have been placed into treatment.”
In Gloucester, records show that 530 people have sought help at the police station since June 2015. Steve Lesnikoski was the first person to get help under the program, and now, after 18 months of being clean, he says without the Angel Program, “I’d probably be in jail or dead.”
Fatal overdoses and drug arrests have decreased in Gloucester. A study by Boston University and Boston Medical Center provided compelling evidence for the Angel Program’s efficacy.
In 417 cases where a person who visited the Gloucester police station was eligible for treatment, police data showed that 94.5 percent were offered direct placement and 89.7 percent enrolled in detox or other recovery services, according to Dr. Davida Schiff, a BMC pediatrician who was lead researcher in the study.
Those numbers, reported in December by the New England Journal of Medicine, compared with less than 60 percent of direct referrals from hospital-based programs, which recruit patients who visit emergency rooms with substance-abuse disorders, Schiff said.
Doing the opposite of the war on drugs is what truly helps people.
It is also important to mention that the opiate addiction, overdose, and accidental death problems might simply be avoided if, ironically enough, marijuana is made legal nationwide. A little over half of the United States have legalized cannabis in some form, leaving nearly half of the remaining states and their residents with no access to legal weed.
As TFTP has documented on several occasions, cannabis holds the promise of helping opiate addicts kick their addiction by substituting their cravings for opiates with the non-addictive pain killing properties of marijuana. And it’s not folklore. Doctors have experimented with cannabis as a substitute for opiates with high degrees of success.
For now, the Department of Justice (DOJ) under the direction of Attorney Jeff Sessions and his staff, has threatened to roll back the progress cannabis activists have made in the last eight and a half years. Joining the DOJ is the DEA which refuses to reclassify cannabis, and remove its current status as a Schedule I narcotic, alongside cocaine, LSD, and heroin.
All of these moves and potential moves by the DOJ and DEA will only make the problem worse unless states like Ohio take measures into their own hands. Now that many in Congress have addicted family members, children, siblings, and friends, the matter has been taken much more seriously.
The idea of treating an addict with compassion instead of violence is a revolutionary notion in this country. However, in other countries, such as Portugal, its effects have been realized for more than a decade. In 2001, the Portuguese government decriminalized all drugs.
15 years later, drug use, crime, and overdoses have drastically declined in Portugal exposing the disturbing reality of prohibition.
Police departments choosing compassion over kidnapping and caging people is the solution and this program’s massive adoption by hundreds of departments across the country is nothing short of bombshell. It is revolutionary, and will undoubtedly lead to progress. However, there is still a long way to go.
This is how change comes — not through the barrel of a gun — but through empathy and peace.