By Chris Simmons
Throughout our nation’s history we have fought and overcome many enemies who sought to undermine our way of life. Whether the British at Yorktown, the Japanese at Midway, the Nazi’s at D-Day, or the defeat of the Taliban, we have fought these faces of tyranny with the upmost resolve. Today, we face a new enemy. It has no army, air force, or navy. It has no flag and holds no allegiance to any nation. It is the opioid epidemic, and just like all the enemies of our past, it seeks to destroy our way of life, only this time, from within. In 2015, the opioid epidemic claimed the lives of 33,000 people among all 50 states. To put that in perspective, that’s more than 11 times greater than the number of people who died as a result of the 9/11 terror attacks. Among these 33,000 deaths were members of upper class, middle class, and working class families. They were your neighbors, teachers, priests, and friends. When most think of opioid addiction, they conjure up an image of an abandoned house and the exchange of needles. However, according to the CDC half of the overdoses that occurred in 2015 were from prescription opioids, not street drugs.
So, what can be done to defeat the threat posed from opioid addiction and overdose? The most common and consistent approach is through the incarceration of these offender’s. The rationale behind this approach is to halt their abuse of the drug, and correct their behavior before they re-enter their communities. While this has some affect, we see time and time again that this is only a temporary fix. Offender’s enter prison, come off the drug, get released, and then often start to re-use the drugs again. To illustrate, since President Reagan's war on drugs in the 80’s, we have seen an influx of prisoners. We would expect to see, as result of more stringent laws, a decline in drug use. However, we have actually seen a sharp increase in drug use since that time. If incarceration isn't fixing the problem, then what can we do? First, we need to recognize that incarceration, while a necessary solution for certain class of offenders, is not the best way to address our drug crisis. Incarceration, by its very nature, only looks to solve a problem once it has began, so we need to look for ways fix the problem before it starts. In order to prevent people from becoming addicted in the first place, we must stop the importation of illegal drugs.
Since many of these illegal drugs come from our southern border, initiatives must be put in place to prevent drug cartels from importing their drugs. Currently, President Trump is taking up the fight to really crack down on illegal immigrants with felony records. Members of Mexican drug cartels bring so many of these devastating drugs into our country. If we can stop drug transportation across our borders, we should expect to see a decrease in the availability of drugs on our streets. However, the Mexican cartels are not the only suppliers of opioids to our citizens. Since half of the overdoses in 2015 came from prescription drugs, we must enforce the laws we have which prevent over prescription of opioids by doctors. Narcotics should only be used to treat serious pain caused by accidents, surgery, terminal illness or in some cases a means to manage pain from chronic conditions. If we stop drugs from entering our country, but do nothing to fight the abuse of prescription pills, then we will likely only see minor improvements. These are only a few of the policy initiatives that must be taken to fight the opioid epidemic. They are not exhaustive, nor are they perfect. However, as we have seen since the 1980’s, drug related deaths are only increasing. People who ignore our laws by trafficking dangerous drugs like heroin or narcotics must be incarcerated in order to save lives. But if we take more proactive steps to stop the problem before it begins, then we have hope of saving the lives of so many people.
About the Author: Chris Simmons is a law clerk at the Reid Law Firm. Chris is a student at Cumberland Law School. Chris can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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