Letter: We don’t have the will to use proven substance abuse harm reduction


By: Scott Keen


The madness of local efforts to address opioid overdose deaths is demoralizing.

Everyone knows that “heroin” now contains fentanyl, the powerful synthetic opioid that makes overdosing easier. Worse, it’s not just opioid users who are affected. Fentanyl appears in other non-opioid drugs (methamphetamine, cocaine, counterfeit pills, etc.), so even people who don’t intend to touch opioids overdose. People are dropping like flies. Fentanyl overdoses are now the leading cause of death among American adults between the ages of 18 and 45.

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

But the only “action” ever taken is to make naloxone, which “reverses” opioid overdoses, easier to get. Yes, naloxone can prevent a user from dying if they are lucky someone finds them and treats them before they die. Good luck!

However, I never see any discussion of implementing proven harm reduction measures. History shows that there will always be drug addicts, but there are inexpensive and effective ways to prevent them from dying.

Providing drug testing lets users know what they are about to consume. Illicit drugs are notoriously unknown in composition, but opioid addicts will continue to use a drug containing fentanyl because that’s all they can get. Either way, knowing what’s in a drug allows people to make informed decisions about their use.

Safe places of use provide safe environments for drug use. Users are monitored so that overdoses are identified and dealt with immediately. Sites also provide clean needles and other supplies to prevent the spread of disease. Remember the needle exchange Governor 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 United States. These seem to 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 from opiate dependence by 50%. However, murky federal rules severely limit how doctors can prescribe this effective drug. 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 with funding and treating people who choose illegal drug use.” My paraphrase: “Let these people die.” It’s pretty cruel. Big pharma billionaires have been found guilty of sowing opioids into the masses and getting millions addicted, but we still blame the addict. “Blessed are the merciful…”

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

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

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


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